The Amazing Harry Kellar by Gail Jarrow

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If I was a contestant on Jeopardy and one of the categories was Magic – I would avoid it for as long as possible. Truthfully, I would probably just say “Harry Houdini” in response to every question. So when I looked at The Amazing Harry Kellar, I have to admit that the name Harry Kellar was unfamiliar to me.  But then I opened Gail Jarrow’s new biography and read this passage:

“Harry Kellar is still admired by today’s magicians. But most people have never heard of him. Instead, they think of Harry Houdini as America’s greatest magician. Yet Kellar was born in America, and Houdini was not. Kellar was a more talented magician whose career lasted longer than Houdini’s. In fact, Houdini idolized Kellar, who was twenty-five years Houdini’s senior.”

Okay. I’m not alone in my “magician illiteracy,” but this passage – combined with the inviting design of Jarrow’s book – made me want to learn more. As I read the book, I began looking forward to a student asking for a book about Harry Houdini and suggesting they look at this book about a “different Harry.”

Jarrow’s book is fun and engaging – reading it is kind of like going to a magic show. Each section begins with a full page color promotional poster from Kellar’s performances.  My favorite poster is of The Queen of Roses appearing out of thin air and, naturally, surrounded by roses.

And here’s a fun fact from the book. Harry Kellar was “America’s magician” during the late 1800s and early 1900s. When The Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, according to Jarrow, “readers recognized the wizard. He looked and acted like the bald, good-natured Kellar – America’s real life wizard.” One of W.W. Denslow’s illustrations for the original book is reproduced here, and it’s pretty amazing how much the Wizard of Oz looks like the Kellar in the posters.

The Amazing Harry Kellar is a fascinating book for readers between the ages of 8 and 12. But be forewarned: Reading this book will inspire young magicians to try a few tricks of their own!

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