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Best of the 2021 National Book Festival: Houdini and Me

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This is a guest post by Cearra Harris, PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina and an intern with the Library’s Archives, History, and Heritage Advanced Internship Program. 

Known for death-defying illusions and escape acts, Harry Houdini is one of history’s most renowned magicians. Houdini’s life and extraordinary career still intrigue magic buffs and history enthusiasts today, nearly 100 years since his untimely death. During the National Book Festival, author Dan Gutman discussed his book Houdini and Me (Holiday House), in Houdini attempts his greatest feat yet—to escape from death itself—through the aid of the main character, Harry Mancini. Check out the full presentation here, and take a moment to learn more about the extraordinary life of Harry Houdini using Library of Congress resources.

Timestamps for Highlights:

  • 1:02– Gutman discusses what sparked the idea to write Houdini and Me.
  • 6:00– Gutman discusses one of Houdini’s most famous tricks and how it influenced his story.
  • 7:00– Gutman details his research process.
  • 9:00– Gutman discusses the authors that made him in love with reading while in high school.
  • 12:05-Gutman offers advice to inspiring young writers.
  • 14:54- Gutman shares a simple magic trick anyone can learn.

Thinking Prompts & Creative Activities:

Writing advice from Dan Gutman:

At 4:00 in his interview, Gutman describes how he begins brainstorming when writing a book by using “thought cards” or flashcards to document his ideas as they come to him throughout the day. Think of a story that you would like to write. For one day, gather flashcards or a notebook to document the ideas for your story that come to mind. As you use your ideas to begin drafting your story, ask yourself, did you find Gutman’s technique compelling?

Harry Houdini stepping into a crate that will be lowered into New York Harbor as part of an escape stunt on July 7, 1912; Carl Dietz, photographer; Prints & Photographs Division

Exploring Houdini’s life:

Before learning about Dan Gutman’s book, did you have any knowledge about the life of Harry Houdini? If so, what did you know? And what surprised you? You can delve more deeply into stories about the life and experiences of Harry Houdini by reading this collection of stories on his life. Harry Houdini. Reflect on the stories and facts about his life that you find intriguing.

Explore these historical news clippings that chronicled notable moments throughout Houdini’s career. Select one article that you find intriguing and write a reflection about what you learned. What are some of the notable takeaways from the article you selected? What surprised you? Check out even more photographs chronicling the life of Harry Houdini by checking out these photos of Houdini in the Library’s collection.

Making a scrapbook inspired by Houdini:

Watch this fantastic 3 minute video about Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks. Houdini meticulously documented his career through news clippings, playbills, photographs, postcards, and other writings. Why do you think it was important for Houdini to preserve his career in his own words? If you were to create a scrapbook of your life, what would you include? Spend some time gathering photographs and mementos to curate a scrapbook of your own.

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