The strength of this reissue of Brian Selznick's first book (with new notes about Houdini, magic, and the creation of the book) is the illustrations. Selznick is the genius behind The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures. Done in b&w crosshatching, they are rich, detailed, and occasionally impart emotional content not in the text. Selznick is truly one of our most brilliant and clever illustrators.
The text, however, is merely so-so, and requires a suspension of disbelief that not every reader will be willing to make -- that Houdini's wife would give a child she'd never met, who had no relationship with her husband, his box of secrets, and that the child would so easily drop his dreams. But it's a pleasant enough story, and the boy's obsession is both amusing and will be recognizable to young readers. And it may even encourage kids to learn more about Houdini.
From the Book:
Houdini was a magician. He could pull rabbits from hats, make elephants disappear, and do a thousand card tricks. Locks would fall open at his fingertips, and he could escape from ropes and chains and cabinets and coffins. Police from around the world couldn't keep him in their jails, and the oceans and the seas couldn't drown him. Bolt Houdini into a metal box and throw him in the water; he will escape. Lock him up in a jail, handcuffed and helpless, in any city in the world -- Moscow, New York, Vienna, Paris, or Providence; Houdini will escape.
Everyone was wonderstruck by Houdini, but children were especially delighted. Children want to be able to escape their rooms when they are sent there for being bad. They want to make their dinners disappear and their parents vanish. They want to pull candy from their pockets without putting any in, turn their sisters into puppies and their brothers into frogs (although some children want to turn their puppies and frogs into sisters and brothers). Children liked Houdini because he could do the unexplainable things that they wanted to do. Houdini was a magician. Magicians can do anything.