See video of this book read aloud here: The Houdini Box(Part I.)
PLEASE ONLY READ FIRST PART OF THE BOOK, PAGES 1-22. DO NOT READ THE LATTER HALF. WE WILL READ THAT PORTION OF THE BOOK THE FOLLOWING WEEK.
Introduction (Prep Questions) First Half Only
Show students the book cover. Ask students if anyone has ever heard of Harry Houdini and if so, to share information as to why he is famous. Explain to students that a magician is an illusionist, one who creates illusions (things that seem or appear differently from what they are in reality).
Share the real photo of Houdini with class (shown below) and indicate the years of his life (1874-1926). Tell students that the genre of this book is historical fiction and ask students what that means (a fictional story which is made up but has characters or events based on fact). Show students the cover again and ask them to suggest predictions as to what the fictional part of the story might be, and why they think so from the cover.
During Reading Session:
P. 1: Read; reread the first sentence of the second paragraph: “Everyone was wonderstruck by Houdini, but children were especially delighted”. Ask students to infer the meaning of wonderstruck based on the independent definitions of the word parts and then to cite examples given in the text (children want to be able to disappear from their rooms when they are sent there for being bad, make their dinners disappear, parents vanish, etc.).
P. 3: Read; ask students to decide whether the two pages are fiction, nonfiction, or one of each. Have them reflect on their predictions in the beginning from the book cover. Point out Victor’s age (10 years old).
P. 5: Read; point out that Victor is 8 years old.
P. 7: Read; have students identify the humor of author Brian Selznick (“In fact, he could not escape at all”). Ask students how Selznick’s illustration helps us to infer more about Victor’s plight (since the trunk is not flat on the floor, the reader can sense how desperately Victor is struggling to get out).
P. 9: Read; have students identify the humor and differences between the two different characters’ reasons for being upset.
P. 11: Read; have students discuss how old Victor is on this page (9 years old). Ask students why Selznick began his story by stating that Victor was 10 but then later that he was 8 and then 9. How does this information learn more about Victor as the main character (he is determined, etc., because he is still trying to succeed with magic despite all the failures)? Ask students how many seconds are in one minute and reflect upon how long five thousand seconds would be. Have kids note the humor of Selznick’s illustration and why (only 3 fingers so far).
P. 13: Read; ask students to again identify the author’s dry humor (“Victor finally got through the wall. He used the door.”). Discuss continuing textual evidence of Victor’s character traits (doesn’t give up even after “many unsuccessful hours”, repeated failures, injuries, etc.).
P. 15: Read; after last sentence on p. 15 have students predict what “the most incredible thing happened” might be and why they think so.
P. 16: Read; have students predict what Victor likely said.
P. 18: Read; ask students to discuss how Victor must be feeling, and why. Have students discuss what character traits Houdini would have learned about Victor from his questions in the first paragraph (determined, a true fan, etc.).
P. 20: Read; ask students why Victor’s mother might have been angry with him (he broke free from her, ran towards a “stranger” in the crowd, etc.). Have students decide character traits the reader learns from this “fictionalized” Houdini (kind, understanding, willing to help Victor in case he got in trouble, funny with his excuse to help Victor, etc.).
P. 21: Read; using cause → effect, have students relate the effect (the weekend in the country was not restful for anyone) with the cause (Victor had just encountered his idol Houdini). Remind students that an effect is what happens and a cause is what makes something happen.
Why do you think Houdini promised to write Victor a letter (impressed with his determination, shared love of magic, etc.)?
Why do you think Houdini is able to escape from dangerous situations and “seems” able to walk through walls, etc., but Victor cannot? Discuss the concept of illusion.
Have students decide reasons why the genre of this story so far is historical fiction. What information stems from fact (Houdini, his feats, etc.)? What parts are fictional?
What do you think will happen in the second half of the story?
Ask students to summarize what happened last week in the story. If needed, do a “picture walk” with the students to help them recall the story.
During Reading Session:
P. 23: Read; discuss the humor (Victor is again locked inside something) and how Selznick again shows movement in his illustration (suitcase is not flat on floor). Ask students how Victor’s mother seems to feel in the illustration (exasperated, worn-out) and what would likely causes be for this effect (she has spent over 2 years rescuing Victor from his attempts).
P. 25: Read; discuss meaning of “A thousand secrets await you. Come to my house.” Have students infer why Victor could not wait until the given date and time (he had waited forever). Ask students what else they can see in the illustration and to suggest why a ghost could be there.
P. 27: Read just the first sentence, “His hands were shaking as he knocked on the door.” Ask students what this indicates about how Victor is feeling, and why (he’s finally going to meet his idol). How have Victor’s feelings changed from the previous page? Read the rest of the page. Discuss the foreshadowing of the ghost in the previous illustration.
P. 29: Read just the first sentence, “Mrs. Houdini read it and began to cry.” Have students suggest possible reasons for her crying. Read rest of page. Have students discuss how Victor is feeling as he waits for Mrs. Houdini to return using evidence from the text and the illustration. What did he probably expect to receive?
P. 31: Read; ask students how and why Victor’s feelings have changed since the previous page, using the text and illustration.
P. 33: Read; have students discuss the significance of E. W. since they have already been exposed to the first half of the accompanying text A Picture Book of Harry Houdini in their small groups. Have them analyze how Victor is feeling and why. Also help students understand that most readers of The Houdini Box will be mystified, just as Victor is.
P. 34: Read; discuss Victor’s reaction, the reasons why he feels so betrayed, and his promise to never think of Houdini again.
P. 36: Read; discuss great time lapse of years and how the author achieves it for the reader. Have students identify evidence that contradicts Victor’s previous promise to never think of Houdini again (names his son Harry).
P. 37: Read; emphasize this additional time lapse of years and again, how the author achieves it for the reader.
P. 43: Read; have students infer what the two smaller words were (Ehrich Weiss).
P. 45: Read just the first paragraph. Reiterate for students how this is new information for most readers of The Houdini Box who will soon connect the E. W. engraved on the box from Houdini. Read the rest of the page and discuss Victor’s reaction. Why is he running?
P. 47: Read; ask students to infer why Victor could not tell his wife or son (he was not sure what he would find, he didn’t want to take the time to explain something from years ago, he was just too excited, etc.).
P. 49: Read; ask students what convenient “trick” the author used (box had been under a leak so after all the years, the lock just crumbled off). Ask students to decide additional evidence that proves Victor never actually “stopped” thinking about Houdini, despite his promise (many, many years have passed since Victor “buried” the box in his closet and he has moved, married, etc.).
P. 51: Read; go back and reread pp. 3-5 and have students discuss the significance of Selznick’s ending (it is actually an example of a “circle story” where the ending brings the reader back to the beginning. How is the ending different from the beginning (after decades, Victor is finally successful)?
What do you think Victor found in the box?
In what way was Victor the same in the beginning of the story as well as the end of the story (still excited about magic). How would that have changed if Victor had not discovered Houdini’s grave monument?
Have students reflect on the aspects of historical fiction as they related to this story. What parts were likely true? Which were likely invented?
Show students to the newspaper images in the beginning of the book and in the back. Share with them what they say. What do you think people thought of Harry Houdini based on these articles?
Read aloud and discuss the last paragraph “An Interesting Note” by the author at the end of the book.
Share the below videos with students in class. Explain to students that when Houdini was alive there was only the ability to film something in black & white and with no sound.