THE SECRET OF THE GREAT HOUDINI

Those expecting an easy answer to what Houdini’s secret really was may be disappointed, but the truth is ultimately more satisfying: he worked incredibly hard, practiced, and believed in his ability. Young Sam learns the importance of searching for his own secret when he and his Uncle Ezra are captivated by one of Houdini’s legendary escapes in this brief but gripping account. The seriousness of the challenge facing Houdini is reinforced by the solemn, dark pastel-and-ink illustrations. Sketchy figures are outlined against deep, watery blues and purples and steely grays, evoking the apprehension Sam feels as he looks at the water in which Houdini’s trunk will be submerged, “So cold and deep it makes his skin feel bumpy.” Uncle Ezra reassures Sam, but not with false promises; he admits Houdini may be afraid, but reiterates that Houdini hears the inner voice of his own confidence. Aides chain Houdini, place him into the trunk, and drop the trunk into the water. As Sam and the rest of the watching crowd grow ever more anxious, readers will find themselves holding their own breath, until at last Houdini bursts from the surface of the water, exhausted but triumphant. The text is interspersed with bold, italicized excerpts of Houdini’s pitch, challenging the audience to believe in the unbelievable. Houdini is a fascinating figure for all ages; this snapshot of one incredible feat and its witnesses will introduce children to the “secret” of his success and may spur further exploration, and inspiration. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-83267-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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A plucky mouse finds her true home in this warm, winning tale.

A TRUE HOME

From the Heartwood Hotel series , Vol. 1

An orphan mouse unexpectedly arrives at Heartwood Hotel, which she hopes will become the home she’s seeking.

Mona’s never had a home for long. After a storm forces her to flee her latest forest shelter, she discovers an enormous tree with a heart carved into its trunk. When Mona presses the heart, a door opens, and she enters the lobby of Heartwood Hotel, where small forest critters hibernate, eat, and celebrate in safety. The kindhearted badger proprietor, Mr. Heartwood, takes pity on homeless Mona, allowing her to stay for the fall to assist the maid, Tilly, a red squirrel. Grateful to be at Heartwood, Mona strives to prove herself despite Tilly’s unfriendly attitude. Mona’s clever approaches with a wounded songbird, an anxious skunk, and a wayward bear win Mr. Heartwood’s approval. But when Mona accidentally breaks a rule, Tilly convinces her she will be fired. As Mona secretly leaves Heartwood, she discovers marauding wolves planning to crash Heartwood’s Snow Festival and devises a daring plan to save the place she regards as home. Charming anthropomorphic characters, humorous mishaps, and outside threats add to the drama. Delicate pencil illustrations reinforce Heartwood’s cozy home theme. A sequel, The Greatest Gift, publishes simultaneously.

A plucky mouse finds her true home in this warm, winning tale. (Animal fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4847-3161-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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