Houdini Box - Review
Selznick, Brian. (2008) The Houdini Box. New
York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon and
Schuster. ISBN 10: 1-4169-6878-4
Open this book and come face-to-face with the
greatest magician of all time: Harry Houdini!
Respect for self and others:This includes integrity (adherence to a code of conduct or value system), honesty vs. manipulation or lying, compassion, caring for others (characters not focused on getting their way no matter what) self respect--main character does not let others denigrate him or her; use of self control and self-discipline ; taking charge of own behaviour; fairness to others (such as taking turns and avoiding the blame game). Reader should ask themselves “How does the protagonist depict their peers?” “Would you want others to treat you this way? Should everyone act this way?” This includes true friendships that do not involve regular lying, deceit or manipulation; considering consequences of actions prior to acting; owning up to responsibility once an action has been taken.
Victor is forever trying to escape from locked trunks,
to walk through walls, and to perform any number of
Houdini's astonishing magic tricks...without success.
Then — amazingly — he meets his idol and begs Houdini to
explain himself. A mysterious, locked box is the only
answer, and Victor is left to wonder: Does the box
contain the secrets of the most famous magic tricks ever
From the creator of the Caldecott Medal-winning
bestseller The Invention of Hugo Cabret comes this
magical storybook that combines captivating mystery with
mesmerizing historical fiction. Now, as a bonus at the
end of the book, you will find a biographical note about
Houdini, an illustrated magic trick, never-before-seen
sketches by Brian Selznick, and more. The Houdini Box
conjures up the pure pleasure of an old-time magic show.
The book’s discussion focuses on the boy Victor with
only small attention to other characters. However,
Victor’s integrity and values show in what he does NOT
do. Victor practices his magic tricks honestly without
lying or manipulating adults to do so. When he is
disappointed, he does not engage in any self-denigrating
behavior. He does not attempt to manipulate in order to
meet or visit Houdini.
Portrayal of Authority figures:The positive portrayal of parents, teachers, police officers and other “good” authority figures common in a child’s life is a positive influence upon the child’s own moral development. This includes actively-parenting mother and father figures. Minimization of parental involvement in the character’s activities or the portrayal of authority figures as inferior present poor role models. Also to be avoided are main characters that deceive parents and teachers to accomplish goals, and overuse sarcasm towards authority figures. Ask yourself “Are parents seen as positive or negative influence in the character's life?”
Authority figures are respected and
portrayed as expected for the era. Victor’s mother
repeatedly rescues him from his failed attempts at magic
tricks and presumably nags him as good mothers do.
Rather than digress negatively on the failed vacation to
Aunt Harriett’s in the country, Selznick humorously
states “Aunt Harriet was not sad they left”. Simple
sentences that say everything, while still leaving much
to the imagination. Adults are in charge.
Citizenship and Patriotism:Loyalty to family, team or group, school, community and world; caring for and being considerate of these groups. Pride to be part of that group or nationality.
Belonging to a group is not integral to the plot.
However, satisfaction and caring for the family is
implied by the behaviours demonstrated between
characters. Once grown, Victor names his own son after
Aunt Harriett and spends time with him.
Justice and Balance:a just distribution between good and evil (with good outweighing evil in the presence of the storyline); demonstration of right and wrong; making decisions to enact the above values rather than simply choosing from two bad possibilities; Ask yourself “Is the emphasis on the positive elements or negative?”
Again, the storyline is simple, has no conflict and
focused on good: Victor’s self-discipline to pursue his
passion for magic, Houdini’s death birthing new life
through Victor brings closure and satisfaction.
Aesthetic Aspects of Life Experience:Look for a storyline portrayal of beauty, health, and selfless love vs. hedonistic behaviours (sexuality, selfishness, obsessiveness, materialism), profanity, gore and violence. Are nature and environment respected or exploited? Look for dark elements; watch out for humor that is negative, denigrates others excessively, uses metaphors to denigrate the sacred.
As we would expect of Selznick’s work, the illustrations
show us the action and emotions taking place. It is
complemented with posters and pictures of the era, plus
includes a biography on Houdini, a list of sources for
more information, and other extra features at the end.
As a historical fiction, the historical elements are
smoothly interwoven to create a sense of nostalgia.
Other Things to Consider:Other aspects of this book of interest or importance. For example, does it portray Wiccan practices and accurate use of tools of which some parents might object, does it contain hidden meanings in metaphors that may prove offensive to some families; does it address personal issues such as puberty or pregnancy.
No other considerations. Recommended for ages 9-12;
parents of very young children reading this book should
ensure the child does not attempt any of these tricks on
their own. We highly recommend this book for the entire
family to read together!
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