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Resources: Harry Houdini’s Birthday, A Super Scientist, and a Latin Mouse

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Resources: Harry Houdini’s Birthday,

A Super Scientist, and a Latin Mouse

By Becky Rupp

Houdini homeschooling resourcesHarry Houdini’s Birthday – a.k.a. Magic Day – is right around the corner; the sensational Houdini was born on March 24, 1874. Resources for Houdini fans and would-be magicians include:

David A. Adler’s A Picture Book of Harry Houdini (Holiday House, 2010) – one of Adler’s extensive Picture Book Biography series – is a simple 32-page biography for ages 5-8, with rich color illustrations.

Kathleen Krull’s Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King (Walker & Company, 2007) is a dramatic picture-book biography for ages 6-10 that gives a sense of Houdini’s showmanship. (“Welcome! Enter! Prepare to be dazzled!” the book begins.) Biographical information is interspersed with framed descriptions of Houdini’s most famous tricks.

Sid Fleischman’s Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini (Greenwillow, 2006), a photo-illustrated biography for ages 9-14, tells how young Ehrich Weiss, a poor Jewish boy from Budapest, Hungary, managed to transform himself into one of the greatest magicians of all time, capable of making elephants disappear and escaping from high-security lock-ups at Scotland Yard. A fascinating addendum describes Fleishman’s own visits with Madame Houdini.

Laurie Carlson’s Harry Houdini for Kids (Chicago Review Press, 2009) for ages 9 and up is an informational activity book on the life and times of the world’s most famous magician and escape artist, illustrated with wonderful period prints and photographs. The accompanying “21 Magic Tricks and Illusions” include learning to tie a magic knot, tackling the Magic Key trick, building a box kite, cracking a secret code, writing an invisible message, and whipping up a batch of ectoplasm. A helpful resource list includes supplementary reading suggestions and related web sites to explore.

Brian Selznick’s The Houdini Box (Atheneum, 2008), a fiction book for ages 7-11, pairs the story of Houdini with that of ten-year-old Victor, who yearns to be a magician. After a chance encounter with Houdini, Victor visits his house – only to learn that the great man has just died. He has, however, left Victor a mysterious box – which just may hold the secret to Houdini’s famous escapes.

I, Houdini (Yearling, 2003) by Lynne Reid Banks is the tale of Houdini’s most unusual namesake: a brilliant hamster escape artist who – leaving chaos in his wake – eventually pulls off the ultimate escape and sets out to explore the great outdoors. A fun and funny read for ages 8-11.

In Janet Pedersen’s Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar (Clarion Books, 2008), Houdini is not only a class pet, but a performing artist. The children, first enthralled by his tricks (he makes leaves vanish), eventually lose interest – until Houdini spins a chrysalis and prepares for his most incredible trick of all. A delightful combination of science, nature, and fantasy for ages 4-7.

Ron Burgess’s Kids Make Magic! (Williamson Publishing, 2003), subtitled “The Complete Guide to Becoming an Amazing Magician,” includes instructions for performing 35 different tricks (plus instructions for making your own magician’s top hat). Recommended for ages 9-12. (Put on a show!)

For the science-minded, Scientific Explorer’s Magic Science Wizard’s Kit includes all the materials for 11 different “magical activities,” variously involving colored smoke, color-changing potions, and slime. (About $15 from

PBS American Experience: Houdini
To accompany the PBS film Houdini, the site includes a transcript, video clips, a gallery of Houdini posters, a timeline of Houdini’s life, games and activities, a resource list, and a teacher’s guide with discussion questions.

Houdini: A Biographical Chronology
From the Library of Congress American Memory project, a brief Houdini biography is linked to terrific images from the Library’s collection.

MagicTricks. Com
A commercial site, this is a source for many individual magic trick kits, along with a “Magic Library” of biographies of famous magicians and a “Magic Museum” of magical artifacts.

Magic Tricks for Kids
From Activity TV, a collection of short video clips demonstrating magic tricks, rated from Beginner to Expert. Try the Vanishing Coin, the Vanishing Salt Shaker, and the Floating Cup.

Max Axiom, Super Scientist

The Max Axiom books (various authors) are part of Capstone Press’s Graphic Library series, 32-page books in graphic novel/panel cartoon format. Reading level, according to the publisher, is for ages 8-10; interest level for ages 8-14. Each book stars the totally cool Max – who looks somewhat like a bronzed Mr. Clean – a scientist with super-powers, among them X-ray vision, the ability to shrink to the size of an atom, and the power to travel instantaneously through space and time.

The books, despite their “Kapow!” appearance, are essentially plotless: in each Max explains and/or demonstrates a different science concept. In The Dynamic World of Chemical Reactions with Max Axiom by Agnieszka Biskup (Capstone Press, 2010), for example, Max covers “Reactions Around Us,” “Matter, Atoms, and Molecules,” “Changing Matter,” and “Dynamic Reactions,” all with simple dialogue, colorful diagrams, and helpful fact boxes. In The Whirlwind World of Hurricanes with Max Axiom by Katherine Krohn, Max first views hurricanes from a space capsule, then visits the aftermath of the ground, explains the meteorology of hurricanes, mentions hurricanes in history, and finishes up with an account of how hurricanes are named.

There are (to date) 24 books in the series, variously covering everything from genes and bacteria to magnetism, earthquakes, food chains, and volcanoes. Click for a complete list and a look at other Graphic Library selections.

Max Axiom titles are available from bookstores, libraries, and at


Minimus homeschool resourcesMinimus: Starting Out in Latin by Barbara Bell (Cambridge University Press, 2000) is a cleverly designed Latin course for children ages 7-10, based on the lives of a real Roman family: Flavius, commander of the fort at Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall around 100 CE, his wife Lepidina, their three children, assorted slaves, a cat named Vibrissa, and Minimus, a mouse.

The book is a colorful mix of panel cartoons, stories and myths, historical and cultural background information (including photographs of Roman artifacts), word lists, and grammar exercises. An accompanying Minimus Teacher’s Resource Book (Cambridge University Press, 2000) has teacher’s guidelines, English translations, and reproducible worksheets.

Also available is Minimus Secundus: Moving On in Latin (Cambridge University Press, 2004), for ages 10-13.

Books and resource guide are available at

Visit the companion website for information on the books and program, games and activities, a Latin sentence generator, templates for making a Minimus finger puppet and a pair of Roman sandals, and a Minimus mythology competition.

Visit Vindolanda for information on the Roman Museum and on-going excavations at Vindolanda.

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