Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 24 - Harry Houdini's Birthday

Sometimes it's hard to say what we want our children to emulate in the people they learn about, and what we don't want them to copy. Houdini, for example, had great determination and force of will. He worked hard to achieve the impossible, and went from poverty to world-renown. 

On the other hand, I would prefer my children not tie each other into straight jackets and then drop each other into tubs of water.



Introducing the astonishing, the unforgettable ... HOUDINI!
He made himself a living legend and became the most famous name in magic. But Harry Houdini, like his acts, was fascinating and mysterious. As a child, he was often on the edge of homelessness, so he would charge crowds to watch him perform tricks he knew no one else could do. After leaving home to seek his fortune, Houdini mastered every form of magic available-- card tricks, juggling, illusions-- and travelled the world over to make a name for himself.
But true stardom came to him only when he began to focus his act around daring, heart-stopping escapes. By sheer force of will, Houdini trained his body to withstand the torturous demands of the elaborate acts he created.


Harry Houdini repeatedly amazed audiences around the globe with his death-defying acts and illusions. With his wife, Bess, often by his side, he freed himself from ropes, handcuffs, and prison cells. Though Harry was always intrigued by magic, his life was not always so glamorous. His family was extremely poor, and as a boy he shined shoes to help them make ends meet. Yet a career in magic was always in the cards


Readers will soon be engaged in the secret world of magic and illusions and aspiring magicians will be inspired by the dazzling tricks featured in this volume. Everyone will learn as readers are guided through each trick with step-by-step instructions. Helpful illustrations show readers exactly what to do to impress their friends and family.

I'm kind of...a bumbling fool at things like this, and I actually found these instructions easy to follow! The clear, step by step illustrations really help!

Social Studies

Erich Weisz was born in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. Why did his parents move to the US? Despite being college educated, his father was unable to make a living in Hungary. He had heard that the streets of America were paved with gold, so he moved to Wisconsin and saved money to bring the rest of his family a couple years later. Unfortunately, he found the services of a Jewish rabbi were not greatly in demand there, either, and the family remained very poor. Houdini ran away at the age of twelve, but when he became wealthy he moved his entire family in with him and helped to support them.

Engage your child in an age-appropriate discussion of the reasons people immigrate to other countries. When did your ancestors come to the US, and from where? Create a family tree together, with notes about how/when/why your family members have moved throughout they years.


From the time he was young, Houdini engaged in a variety of strength training and flexibility exercises that were largely responsible for his success. If physical activity is not part of your daily routine, this may be the right motivation to get started!

Strength training is NOT the same as weight lifting, but it should still be started cautiously with children. Please talk with your doctor first about what types of exercises you would like to begin with your child. This article has some great basic information and first steps.


* Houdini never claimed any supernatural element to his tricks. When his mother passed away, Houdini was very sad and turned to spiritualists - people who claim they can talk with the dead. He quickly realized they were fakes, however, and often exposed their tricks on stage.

While stories about ghosts can be fun to tell, there is generally a scientific explanation. This article lists ten fascinating examples in very easy to understand language. (Some not-so-appropriate language in the comments, however, so watch how far your kids are reading!)

You can give your own example of looking for earthly explanations by hanging a sun catcher in a window. At the right time of day, casually point out lights dancing on the walls, and wonder aloud if it could be a ghost, or fairies - then lead them to figure out what it actually is. (When I wash dishes in the afternoon, my cats go bonkers over the light reflecting from my watch face onto the kitchen cabinets.)

* Any kind of science can look like magic - especially science that fizzes and explodes! This is one of our favorite books for kids and science:


Fun experiments AND understandable explanations!


Parents, perhaps you have seen something like this on Facebook:

1. Think of a number.
2. Double it.
3. Add ten.
4. Divide it in half.
5. Take away the original number.
6. Your answer is five!

Is it magic? Hardly - just math!
Steps 1 and 5, and steps 2 and 4 cancel each other out - so basically, all you have done, no matter what your starting number was, is divide ten in half. And that's always going to be five!

You can find more here and here and here! (Psst - just don't tell them they are learning math - and logic - while they learn the tricks!)

Language Arts

* Houdini was very much in love with his wife, Bess. He often left love notes on her pillow! Spend a week leaving notes for your family members in fun places for them to find. Be creative! After a week of doing it, you may find the habit so ingrained that you keep it as part of your routine.

* Houdini loved books so much, he hired his own librarian to help him keep track of his collection, which filled his house! How do libraries keep all their books straight? Visit your local library, and even if you are quite familiar with it, ask the librarian to show you how things are arranged. You might learn something new! 

- Who decides where a book will go? Sometimes it is the librarian, sometimes it is the cataloger. Sometimes it is someone who doesn't even work in the same building! 
- Do they ever change where a book is located? Why would they do that?
- How does the information about the book's location get into the computer?

***Want to know a librarian magic trick? Find any nonfiction book and open it to the page with all the boring gobbledy-gook, like copyright date. It is usually one of the pages before the title page, but might also be at the end. Somewhere towards the bottom, you may see something like this:

- The "ISBN" number tells us exactly what book we have.
- The numbered parts tell us what subjects are covered.
- And...that 793.8 is the Dewey decimal number that tells us where it goes in the library! (It also pops up in the computer record when we go to catalog it). I'll bet you thought we knew all that off the top of our heads! 

Do you want to know a library magic trick you can use? Go to your local library, and look at the books at 793.8. Those are about magic too, aren't they? The Dewey Decimal system* is the same all over. Once you learn the call number for the books you like to read about, you will always know right where to go to find them, no matter what library you are in!

* We'll discuss Library of Congress, etc.,  another time.


Make magic wands with sticks, dowel rods, pencils, whatever you have on hand (click here to see how we made our Harry Potter pencil wands - they are about halfway down the page)


Nothing is quite as magical as a yeast bread! Have you ever been the recipient of an Amish Friendship Bread starter? I had one going for a while, but alas, on the third go-round I got too busy. Good news, though, you can start your own starter!

1 packet active dry yeast in
1/4 cup warm water.
Let set for ten minutes. 

In a glass or plastic bowl, whisk:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
and stir in:
1 cup milk.

Mix in dissolved yeast. Cover loosely and let set at room temperature. You can use a plastic baggie if you leave a tiny opening (put the baggie in a bowl to keep it from spilling.) Do NOT use metal utensils or bowls for any of this!

Now, you need to follow the ten day instructions for Amish Friendship Bread (this is day one, and you do nothing else.)

Days 2-5: Squish around in baggie.
Day 6: Add 1 cup each flour, sugar, and milk, and squish around again.
Day 7-9: Squish.
Day 10: Pour into a bowl (not metal!) and add 1 cup each flour, sugar and milk. Mix thoroughly. Put one cup of mixture into each of three bags, and write "Day 1: (today's date)" on each. Give those to your friends, along with these daily instructions.

To the rest, add:
1 cup oil
another 1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

In another bowl, sift together:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 box instant pudding (optional)
1 cup nuts or dried fruit (optional)

Mix both bowls, pour batter into greased pans dusted with sugar. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.


Houdini had a healthy ego, but at his funeral the rabbi called him "one of the noblest and sweetest of men." He loved children, even though he and Bess were never able to have any. He often performed free for soldiers and children. 

Learn some magic tricks, or think of some other ways you can entertain - sing or dance, or put together a play - and offer your performance free to a nursing home, neighbors, or local hospital.

Other Web Sites to Explore

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