Recommended for ages 8-12
Young Harry Houdini was a shoeshine kid on the streets of New York long before he captivated audiences with his illusions – but he was always interested in magic. The Magician’s Fire introduces readers to Harry and his friends – fellow street urchin Billie, and Arthur, a wealthy boy from an unhappy home.
We also meet Herbie, a magician who serves as Harry’s mentor – he’s a tired older man who performs in a local theatre. One night, Herbie disappears, the only evidence being a puff of purple smoke. Harry and his friends turn investigators, using their skills and their wits to get to the bottom of Herbie’s disappearance. But are they also attracting some unwanted attention?
I love the idea of introducing kids to Harry Houdini. It worries me that icons of previous generations may fade away to the general public, so seeing Harry brought back to life in a mystery-type series – think Alfred Hitchcock’s investigators, but with magic! – that also gives him a chance to show off his developing illusionist skills, really makes me happy.
Harry is obnoxious in this first book. He wants the attention, he wants to do everything by himself, and his idea of teamwork really relates to how his friends can get him noticed or pave his way to save the day. He realizes this, thankfully, when Billie and Arthur call him on it, and while I think this will be a struggle we see in future plotlines, it presents a great growth opportunity for the characters and gives middle graders an entry point to the character. Readers will recognize themselves in Harry, sympathize with Arthur, and cheer for Billie. There’s some good character development at work here, and interesting insights into the world of illusion that will appeal to everyone.
The book leaves off with an obvious cliffhanger, so I hope this new series has a long, successful life. I read the first chapter to a storytime group of middle graders, and they were captivated by the opening scene. One boy asked me to make sure I included that book in my next library order – duly noted!
The Sourcebooks website offers a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide to The Magicians’ Fire, along with an excerpt.