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The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American…
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The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician

by Gail Jarrow

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This is the story of Harry Kellar, his life from childhood through his death. His interests, apprenticeship, milestones and accomplishments are highlighted in the book.
  laurlou | Jun 10, 2014 |
Think Harry Houdini is the most famous American magician? Well, he might be NOW, but it was a different story in the early 20th century when an American-born magician, Harry Kellar, dominated the stage and played to sold out theaters.

This is a great biography for anyone with an interest in magic, history (early 20th century, in particular) or Harry Houdini. Harry Kellar was 25 years Houdini's senior and was an inspiration to the escape artist. The men were close friends.

I really appreciated the layout of the book. Full color replications of the famous Harry Kellar posters and many archival photographs bring the time period to life. The layout, with thinner columns in the center of the pages, suggests turn-of-the-century newspapers.

Extensive back matter includes an index, bibliography, source notes, suggestions for further reading, and a timeline of Kellar's life.

This would be a GREAT choice for kids wanting to do biography reports on Harry Houdini when the Houdini books are checked out, BUT this book deserves to be more than a backup for Houdini. Keep it in mind when kids come in looking for magic trick books. ( )
  abbylibrarian | May 9, 2013 |
Houdini is the name of a magician most people recognize but Harry Kellar is the magician Houdini idolized. Kellar was the first American-born magician to become an international celebrity and Jarrow conjures up a fascinating introduction to the man who served as the model for the Wizard of Oz. Superbly illustrated and elegantly designed. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Although mostly forgotten today, Harry Kellar was once a world-famous magician, known and respected by his contemporaries and the magicians he trained and influenced, including Harry Houdini.

The book opens with a brief note about the many stage posters used as illustrations and an account of Kellar's performance for President Roosevelt. The narrative begins with Kellar's adventurous life as a boy, running away from home at age 11, he traveled from Pennsylvania to New York. After a few years, he became fascinated with magic and apprenticed himself to a stage magician. Eventually, he formed his own act and traveled across the world, to Australia, South America, India, and other exotic places. After many years of hard work, he achieved his goal of being the greatest American magician and inspired a new generation of famous magicians. As Jarrow tells the story of Kellar's life, she also talks about the history of magic, including the superstition of magicians' power coming from the devil.

The book is laid out to feature the many stage posters, with full page posters, black and white photos, and short chunks of text with bold headlines. The book is oversized, a little taller than the average picture book. Quotes, captions, and historical information are included in sidebars. Back matter includes a timeline, source notes, bibliography, more information on magic and magicians, and an index.

Verdict: It's an interesting idea, and the writing is brisk and informative, but the layout felt very cluttered to me. Also, the length of the text would require a middle grade reader, but this age is usually very reluctant to pick up a book that looks like a picture book. Plus, it's just under 100 pages and most biography assignments, at least in my school district, require 100 pages. If you have an audience with a strong interest in magic and history, this might work for your library.

(If you've had problems with challenges to Harry Potter on the basis of magic=Satanism, be aware that there are frequent discussions of this superstition throughout the book and many of the vintage posters feature Kellar with devil or imp assistants)

ISBN: 1590788656; Published June 2012 by Calkins Creek; Borrowed from the library
  JeanLittleLibrary | Sep 22, 2012 |
Richie’s Picks: THE AMAZING HARRY KELLAR: GREAT AMERICAN MAGICIAN by Gail Jarrow, Calkins Creek, June 2012, 96p., ISBN: 978-1-59078-865-3

“His ingeniously redesigned illusion filled nine large, heavy trunks when it was packed for traveling. In each new theater, stagehands spent several hours setting up the wires, winches, and cables that made the illusion work.”

“I’ll tell ya about the magic, it will free your soul
But it’s like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout rock n roll”
--John Sebastian (1965)

“Ever hear of Herrmann the Great? Keller? Thurston? Once headliners each one, now footnotes.”
-- Sid Fleischman, from ESCAPE: THE STORY OF THE GREAT HOUDINI

In late summer 1875, Harry Keller – one of the footnotes to which Fleischman refers – took his successful magic act across the Atlantic and came up short: the boat on which he was traveling sank off of the coast of France and he lost all of his accumulated profits (which were stashed in his luggage in the form of gold and silver coins and diamonds).

Shortly thereafter, Keller changed his name to Kellar and began an ascendance that eventually brought him to be the most famous magician of his day and the inspiration for the wizard in the Wizard of Oz. In a large-trim volume filled with colorful, full-page reproductions of the posters he used to advertise his appearances, Gail Jarrow brings to life the life and times of the magician (and footnote) who called himself Kellar.

“As Harry performed each illusion, he cleverly covered up its secret by directing the audience’s attention to something else, such as firing a gun or a beautiful girl. He used to say that if he succeeded in distracting an audience, ‘a brass band playing at full blast can march openly across the stage behind me, followed by a herd of elephants, yet no one will realize that they went by.’”

Kellar was a guy who was determined to stay at the peak of his craft. He would travel afar in order to methodically learn about the feats of illusion being performed by others, and then he would do what it took – including hiring away someone’s assistant – so as to acquire the trade secrets necessary to incorporate the new illusion into his own act. Yet he was also a beloved character who was eventually named the first Dean of the Society of American Magicians.

Jarrow’s story includes a peek at the nation’s oldest magic shop – which crafted some of Kellar’s equipment. Interestingly, it relocated years ago from New York City to a location within walking distance of where I am in New Jersey. I’m heading over there in a minute for a closer look.

So, if I seem to disappear in mid-air, you’ll know where to start looking…

Richie Partington
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/ http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php ( )
  richiespicks | Aug 5, 2012 |
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"With a flair for entertaining and a knack for self-promotion, Harry Kellar always promised a spectacular show. And he never disappointed. Kellar read minds, floated women in the air, and escaped from knotted ropes in seconds. Known throughout the world, he was a conjurer extraordinaire! Author Gail Jarrow shines the spotlight on this nearly forgotten magical wizard and his dazzling illusions. Working with experts and relying on Kellar's own words and promotional posters, she reveals a man who is still celebrated and respected by magicians today. Kellar performed for kings and queens, presidents and emperors--and now he performs for you."--Jkt. flap.… (more)

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