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The Houdini Box

Last updated Monday, October 8, 2012

Author: Brian Selznick
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
Date of Publication: 1991
ISBN: 1416968784
Grade Level: 4th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Oct. 2012

Synopsis: 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 performed?

Note to readers:
•  You should be able to finish the story.
•  At the end, the author writes about Houdini and how the author wrote and illustrated the book. There is a magic trick the kids can try as well.
•  Definitely read the last author's note about what he found when he visited Houdini's grave.
•  You may want to start with Houdini’s bio in the back of the book to give the kids the idea of his life (introductory part is helpful, you don’t have to read the whole bio).

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Do you know who Houdini was?
•  Do you believe in magic? Are magicians’ tricks real or are they illusions?
•  Is magic "science"?
•  Is magic the same as a trick? Why or why not?
•  Have you seen a magic show before?

•  Monument – something created in memory of a person or an event
•  Illusionist – a person who performs tricks or magic
•  Spiritualist – someone who believes that the dead in the spirit world can communicate with the living.
•  Kaddish – a Jewish prayer

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  How come Victor can't escape like Houdini?
•  What do you think Victor needs to do to complete these acts? (practice holding his breath, practice bending his body and making himself smaller,etc.)
•  Why did Victor’s mother sent him to Aunt Harriet’s?
•  Why do you think Victor put the box away and never thought about Houdini again?
•  What do you think was in that small box?
•  What do the initials E.W. stand for?
•  What would you choose as your magician name?

Craft ideas:
•  Have the kids guess what was in Houdini’s box and make their own box out of popsicle sticks.
•  Draw an advertisement for Houdini’s magic show.

Special activities:
•  Practice the magic trick (hand trick) toward the end of the book.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!