The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

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When an author comes to speak to his class in a rundown area of Providence, Houdini decides to make money by writing his own novel.

Rule #8 for Writing a Kid’s Novel: Try to include a few lists in your novel. Kids like lists.

Houdini is way more interesting than the kid the author wrote about.

Rule #6: You have to like your characters or the reader won’t care about them. (How can I not like myself?)

Houdini chronicles his life as he and his friends start a leaf-raking business, befriend Old Man Jackson, a Vietnam War veteran with a seriously intimidating dog, and get even with the neighborhood bully, Angel. But it’s hard to find a way to write about his dad losing his job or his brother, Franklin, who is first reported missing in action in Iraq and then still seems to be missing when he comes home.

No matter what, Houdini and his friends rely on one another to figure out how to do the right thing. And Houdini discovers that writing and thinking about his friends and family lets him get to know them in completely new ways.

Curriculet Details
24 Questions
27 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 5th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining figurative language, plot development and narative voice. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about magic and heroism. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of diction, drawing inferences, and speaker's point of view. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

The curriculet is being added to your library

My Name

John gives a list of things he compares with having a plain name. He uses the word "like" for each one. Do you remember if it is a simile or a metaphor that uses the word "like" to compare two things? Watch the video below for a refresher.  (This annotation contains a video)

Why They Call Me Houdini

Peter Johnson is an award-winning author of numerous books. He is a professor of creative writing and children's literature in Rhode Island, where he lives with his wife and children. The genre of this novel is coming of age and humorous fiction. (This annotation contains an image)

No Swearing or Sex

As it is used in this sentence, the word "cruised" here means nearly the same as 
John Houdini doesn't know what the word "authentic" means, but he quickly figures it out using clues around him. We start to notice some details about Houdini in these first few chapters, like the fact that he is pretty smart for a thirteen year old. Let's see what else we can discover about his character. Let's make a note page with things we notice about his personality and things he does (actions) that show us what type of person he is like. This might help us predict how the problems in the story will get resolved. 
Why does Houdini most want to write a novel? 

Ten Rules for Writing a Kid’s Novel

We can tell a lot about the story just by examining the point of view this story is being told from. Watch the video below to remind yourself about the different types of narrative point of view.  (This annotation contains a video)

My Neighborhood

Which word would best describe Jorge on one of these days? 

What’s in a Name?

We started taking some notes on Houdini a few pages ago. Now he is telling us about his other friends. Last chapter we learned about Jorge. Now we learn about Lucky. Jorge comes from a single family home. What do you think we we learn about Lucky? Make sure to write down what you learn. 

“My Friends, I Think We Hit the Big Time”

What theme is best demonstrated in this chapter of the story? 

Ten Creatures Mr. Gregory Gregory Could Have Been in a Previous Life

This is the second list we have seen in this book. Both lists have ten items. You could say that lists are a text feature. We can look for more as we read and compare them to each other. Are they always ten items long? Are they written in a similar style? What is the purpose of each list? These are all questions we can ask when we find more examples of this text feature as we continue reading. 

My Family

Using evidence from the text, explain why Houdini tells this joke to his mother. Write your answer in two or more sentences. 

The Difference Between Crazy and Mean

Even though the image of Angel riding a Tyrannosaurus is funny to think about, humans were not around when dinosaurs were roaming the earth. Visit the link below to learn more about the T-rex from National Geographic.  (This annotation contains a link)
Which character in this story can be best characterized by the term "bully"? 

Every Novel Needs a Villain

The main character is often called the protagonist of as story, sometimes we just call them the hero. The villain, sometimes called the antagonist, is the person who works against the hero in some way. Sometimes the villain is a person, and sometimes its something else, like a place or a troubling situation. Do you think Houdini is choosing a good villain? (This annotation contains a video)

Old Man Jackson

In your own words and using evidence from the text, explain why the boys are not looking forward to raking Old Man Jackson's yard. Give your answer in two or more sentences. 
The Purple Heart medal is awarded by the U.S. government for soliders who fought and were injured or killed fighting for America.  (This annotation contains a video)
The phrase "his Mohawk twitching like a giant centipede" is an example of a metaphor. 

Ten Things I Miss about Franklin That Are Really One Thing

This list doesn't really look like a list. If you look closely enough, this list resembles a poem. Do you see a poem here or do you think this is just a list without numbers? 
If Houdini admits that he is the better golfer, why does he let Franklin win? Write two or more sentence respond, explaining your answer using evidence from the text. 

Being a Writer Ain’t Easy

Now is a good time to return to the beginning of the book where Houdini shows us his list of ten things to know about writing a children's book. Do you think that any of the items on that list need to be adjusted yet? How do you think Houdini is doing working from his list so far? 

A Mountain of Leaves

Part 1 Quiz 

Two Houdinis

Friday the 13th or fear of black cats and broken mirrors are popular superstitions. Superstitions revolve around the belief in something happening that is of your control. Can you name the 10 most popular superstitions?  (This annotation contains a video)

Inside Jackson’s House: Part One

 As it is used in this sentence, the word "silhouette" means nearly the same as ______. 

“A Lot Can Happen to a Person”

This chapter shows one of the themes of this story: that appearances can be deceiving. Old Man Jackson appears crazy, but he is actually normal. As we continue reading, let's look for clues that other characters are different after we get to know them.  


What are the views of John "Houdini" Smith Jr. and Houdini's on war? 

In This Corner

Here is a little mystery for you to solve: Instead of hitting him back, Angel promises revenge. But where, and when, will this happen? We can keep our eyes peeled for clues to see if we can figure out what happens before Houdini does. 

The Importance of Brains

What is one trait that Angel and his mother have in common? 

Ten Other Quotations from Houdini

Had you heard of Houdini before you read this book? He was a very famous magician who excelled at escape tricks. His work made him famous.  (This annotation contains a video)

The First Annual Leaf-Diving Contest

Using evidence from the text, explain why Angel says the jumping contest is between Houdini and himself. Explain your answer in one or more complete sentences.  

A Worm of an Idea

Houdini and Jorge can only guess that Angel put the metal in the leaf pile. Then we find out Angel was at the hospital to visit. Does this seem to support or go against Houdini's theory? Have you ever heard someone say they have a "guilty conscience"? What does that mean?  (This annotation contains a link)

“Found to Be Missing”

What kind of figurative language is being used in this portion of the sentence? 
A grip strengthener is used to develop the muscles in the wrist and arm.  (This annotation contains an image)

Inside Jackson’s House: Part Two

What does Houdini learn from Old Man Jackson? 
The United States has set up free services including health care for former soldiers (veterans) of the war, called the Veterans Affairs Office. The nickname for many of these services is VA. Old Man Jackson probably had to see a psychiatrist or psychologist (shrink, as he calls them) after he returned from Vietnam, and he tells us that this services was provided by the Veterans Affairs Office. 

Ten Things You Can Do to Calm Down Your Father When He Loses It, with Thanks to the Thesaurus

Part 2 Quiz 

Family Reunion at the Police Station

Dick and Franklin seem to have a lot in common, but Dick was the youngest son and Franklin was the oldest. Do you think Houdini will identify more with Dick or with his grandfather? Why? 

A Whole New Enemy

Use context clues to determine the meaning of the word "arrogant" as it is used here. Then, rewrite this sentence putting in an alternative word or phrase in place of the word arrogant that keeps the same meaning as the original. 

The Worm Crawls Out of Its Hole

This scene reminds the reader that everyone in the book has some kind of problem that bothers them. Houdini has Angel to worry about, Lucky his father, and Jorge his single mother. Does giving each character some kind of issue make them more or less realistic? Would the story be as interesting if everything always went right for these boys? 

The Storm

The phrase "pummeling the neighborhood" implies that this storm was 

“Can We Take a Hand Vote on That?”

Even though we have not officially learned Houdini's plan for revenge on Angel, we might be able to use clues from the reading to guess what will happen. The boys need to wait for Angel to fall asleep, and now they have shaving cream and a razor. Can you guess what their plan is? 

Barber School

Using evidence from the text, explain in one or more sentences why the boys are not laughing after pulling this prank on Angel. 

Old Man’s Jackson’s House Yet Again

It would look far more suspicious to see three boys carrying Angel down the street, so they opt for an easier and less suspicious way of moving him: a wheelbarrow. What are wheelbarrows usually used for?  (This annotation contains an image)

“Very Creepy”

Why does Houdini make sure he keeps Lucky and Jorge close by? 

The Zoo

Though they do not do this all the time, camels spit in times of high stress.  (This annotation contains a video)
Franklin is worried that his family will be embarassed 
The coat of arms Houdini refers to was the family symbol that was typically sewn into banners or painted on the shield of families from Medieval times. Though there are no actual "old dead guys" pictured on this coat of arms for the Smith family, Houdini is probably referring to all of the members of his family who had the same last name that died before him. (This annotation contains an image)

“Don’t Tell Me about Fair”

Where did Houdini meet Carlos Perez? 

The Stupid Law

Finally the boys are able to laugh about shaving Angel's head. If you look closely at what Houdini is saying, he isn't saying he is laughing at the act of shaving Angel's head. What he is laughing at is that shaving Angel's head didn't help anything, and it never embarrassed Angel. Houdini is saying that shaving Mr. Gregory Gregory's head would not actually help the situation. 

One Big Happy Family

Houdini is worried about Angel swinging a hammer because he thinks Angel is using this as an excuse to get close to him for revenge. 
Angel's character has undergone a change. Some event has changed the way he acts towards others (likely the night the boys shaved his head). We call characters that learn, change, and grow dynamic characters. A dynamic character can be interesting to watch. Do you think Angel will go back to his old ways, or do you think this change in his character is for good? 

“Take a Pill or Something”

When Houdini says that Jorge didn't filter on his hyped-up days, he means 

John Smith and Sons

Cold weather around the holidays is pretty normal in the East Coast area, where Houdini lives. But in the winter, when the wind is blowing harder, it can feel colder that the actual temperature on a thermometer reads. Do you know how windchill works? Watch the video below for a scientific explanation.  (This annotation contains a video)

“Just Let It End, Dude”

Which character in Houdini's book has character traits that most closely resemble someone who is brave, smart, daring, and able to save the day in the end? 
Part 3 Quiz