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The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini
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The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  229 ratings  ·  88 reviews
For fans of Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee, Gary D. Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, and Jack Gantos's Joey Pigza Books comes a hilarious and poignant slice-of-life novel from critically acclaimed author and poet Peter Johnson.

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. Houdini chronicles
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published January 24th 2012 by HarperCollins
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Valerity (Val)
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: goodreads-win
I won this first-read from giveaways and there wasn't a description that I recall, so I was surprised when it arrived and was a book for kids ages 8-12 :)

Nonetheless, I take my reading seriously, so I looked it over and dived in. First off, its not about THE Harry Houdini as I originally had surmised. Its a clever, timely kids book by Peter Johnson about a boy, John Smith, Jr., who has the nickname Houdini, and his friends Jorge and Lucky, and the things they get into in their
Barb Middleton
Apr 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: realistic, ya, bully
Yellow post-it notes litter my desk like a checkered flag. Once in a while one gets stuck to my elbow or purse bottom. I'm optimistic at first that this organization technique will galvanize me into getting my act together. But by the end of the year, I've gravitated toward my natural chaos, casting a jaded eye at the fake wood desktop thinking, this strategy ain't a workin' for me. I feel the same way about some common literary techniques in children's literature. At first, I think, ahhhh... ...more
Morgan M
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
A Boy’s Interesting Life
Morgan M.

How would you feel if you inspired someone to do something positive with their life? Wouldn’t that be a great feelings?

John Smith, Jr. is a huge fan of magic, and his nickname is Houdini. He got the nickname Houdini he was obsessed with the magician Houdini. He loves to read detailed biographies about Houdini, and also books written by Houdini. Houdini’s books are mainly about tricks and other successful magicians. John and his two best friends, Jorge and Lucky,
Trudy Zufelt
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
After a school visit from an author, John Smith, Jr. (nickname Houdini), decides to write his own book. At first, he wants to write to make money and because Houdini thinks his life is more interesting than the kid in the author's book. He develops a list of rules to guide him in his writing endeavor which include: Rule #9. Put in a few comic scenes. (Yes, kids to like to laugh and there are some hilarious moments in this book.) Rule #7: Include a moral dilemma for your characters (Houdini ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This ended up being a nice cozy piece of realistic fiction written by a local (Rhode Island) author. It probably would not be surprised about the fact that the narrator's name is John Smith, Jr. John is confronted with a few challenges, and most of them show up on the book's cover. The troubles include the fact that his brother is serving in Iraq, his and his friends are being picked on by the local tough guy Angel, they have a Vietnam-vet neighbor that everyone is afraid off, and the family ...more
Michelle King
June 15, 2013

John Smith's friends call him Houdini because of his obsession with everything Houdini (and who wants to be called John Smith anyway?)

Houdini decides to try his hand at writing after an author speaks at his school. Houdini thinks he could do a better job than that guy. The book chronicles his attempt to do just that.

Add in a brother serving in the military, an odd, reclusive Vietnam vet, a huge bully, a sleazy politician, and job lay-offs, you have the main plot of the book.

Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: young-adult, ritba
The best part about this book for me was the Providence setting. However, that's not enough to really get me into this book. It read a lot like young adult fiction from the 80s does. It's slice of life with no real plot to it. Even the premise of the book, which is that John Smith AKA Houdini wants to be a writer so he's writing what he knows doesn't seem to carry through the entire book. The story he does tell isn't that compelling to me although I can see how this book can be used to address ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it
I was pretty disappointed with this book, and anyone who in drawn to it because of the word "Houdini" in it, will also be very disappointed. I would recommend it mostly to grades 6-8 boys, especially those who are struggling a bit with their reading. There are cuss words through out the book (right away in the first chapter) and I felt like the author was trying to cover too many plot lines (father losing his job, bully in the neighborhood, sleezy politicians, ex-vet, brother in Iraq). I didn't ...more
Dec 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I received this book as a first reads giveaway. It took me awhile to sit down with this one as I wanted to read it with my niece and she was still working her way through another book. Once we sat down with this one though it was a great time reading. We giggled a good bit and could connect to having a family member overseas at war. Thank you for sharing this book with us.
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kid-s-books
I love this book. I love that our hero has a lot of problems that so many kids have today. Parents dealing with a rough economy, a brother in the military conflicts in the middle east, an obnoxious bully and the angst of growing up. John loves Houdini, wants to be an author and is determined to get ahead in spite of all of his troubles.
This review is going to go off on a slight tangent. Not because of plot, character, or setting. No, it's because of content. I won this giveaway seven years ago on Goodreads. At the time, I was the target audience. Sure, this is geared more towards boys, but still. Age wise, I was the target audience. It was published by HarperCollins Tween division. It is marketed for ages 8-12, so grades 3-7.

I decided to re-read it now that I am older. The book is overall pretty short, only 168 pages, so I
Nikki Boisture
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
John Smith, Jr. is obsessed with Harry Houdini. So much so that his friends nickname him Houdini, which you have to admit is a better name than the very boring John Smith. Houdini lives in a poor neighborhood in East Providence, where his parents worry about money, Houdini worries about local bully Angel Dmitri, and they all worry about Houdini’s older brother Franklin, a marine serving in Iraq. When a kids’ book writer visits his school, he gives Houdini some good advice, and Houdini works ...more
McKenna Whitmer
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wjhs, topic, fiction
I enjoyed this book because everything from the characters to the setting was just so interesting to read. I didn't think I would enjoyed the book but I really did. Houdini (John Smith) explains his life through the book, and the hardships he faces with his friends who just want to get by. My favorite part of the book is when Houdini, his dad, brother, and his friends all helped fix up Old Man Jackson's house, because Jackson was so happy when they were all finished. I think if you like ...more
Alfredo Toledo
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
My personal opinion about the book its a pretty good book is really detailed the setting was easy to tell . Well my favorite passage of the book was when john found his two best freinds and they where a vet and a dog. what i like about this book is that it took place in the middle school grade. And would i recommend yes because this book is really interesting and entertaning book to read and the book is really realistic and discritive. what i dint like about the book was that the bully always ...more
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
John Smith is a boring name unless you're related to the John Smith of Pocahontas fame, which this one isn't. Fortunately a fascination with magician Harry Houdini has yielded a semi-cool nickname for this thirteen-year-old potential author. That is until Angel, who is badly named since he's the school bully, turns it into "Houdini Weenie" and sets out to make Houdini and his buddies as miserable as possible without actually committing murder and going to prison. Houdini Smith and his friends ...more
Mar 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: firstreads
I won this as a giveaway from and was looking forward to it based on the cover, and intrigued at the lack of description.

However, I was rather disappointed once I got into it. The positives of the book were the fact that the language was easy to understand, and the chapters manageable, especially given the recommended reading ages of 3rd to 7th grade. The author also has a good knack for being able to bring places alive through his descriptions. I cannot say the same about the
Ms. Yingling
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
It's annoying having such a common name and being an average guy, which is why John doesn't mind that his friends call him Houdini, even if people like bully Angel call him Weenie. Houdini's family situation is a little precarious-- his mother works at the dry cleaning store that Angel's mother runs, his father is afraid of lay offs, and his older brother Franklin is stationed in Iraq. When an author comes to his school, Houdini decides to write a book about himself so he can earn money for his ...more
Oct 27, 2014 rated it liked it
John Smith Jr. hates his boring name, but fortunately his friends call him Houdini. His father works for a cleaning company but should have his own business; his older brother Franklin was a football star in high school but is now missing in action in Iraq. His two friends are Lucky (who is the most unlucky person in history) and Jorge (who looks tougher than he is), and they mostly just try to avoid Angel, the neighborhood bully. When they start their own leaf-raking business they encounter ...more
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini is a book that can be read through one reading (especially for an adult). This is a book about a thirteen year old kid, John Smith Jr., (Houdini) who is going through everyday life with his friens Jorge and Lucky. There is a bully, a forgotten Vietnam War Hero, the current Iraq War Hero, a politician and the laid-off/job crisis in his family. This is a book about everyday life with the current events going on in today's world.

Houdini is
Instead of writing in a diary, John is writing a kid's novel about his experiences as a 13-year-old boy. In parts, it also reminds me of the movie, The Sandlot--the bully, the scary neighborhood dog and scary owner, etc.

John's story also shares about his dad losing his job, which is very relevant in American households today. I also really appreciated that the author incorporated the war in Iraq because there are many children and young people who had/have family members in Iraq and
Jun 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: ya-and-kidlit
Neither the cover nor the title of this book does it any favors -- ugh! So unappealing. In any case, this is another one of many books that qualify as reasonably good, but not great. The gimmick of the narrator claiming to have actually written the book, and complaining that adults can't truly capture the voice of a teenager, is a bit ironic, because I don't feel like the author captures a teenage voice all that well. On the other hand, I do like some of the grittier realism in the novel, and ...more
Debra Zager
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: libs-678

I bought this book for the elementary school library based on reviews. I had
Fifth graders in mind particularly boys and put it on the shelf in the highest AR level without reading it myself. A fourth grade girl checked it out first and I
found the book in my mailbox with a note to the principal highlighting the chapter " No Swearing or Sex". I put the book in my office until I could read it.
It is wonderful, funny, sad, poignant, and I think entirely appropriate.
The book is about a
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: 6th grade & up
Recommended to Allison by: Local author
This fun book is set in the neighborhood where I have lived for nearly 30 years. I can readily identify locations story settings were based upon. Plus, the book is set in the current time, which I found really cool. I believe it's the first fiction I've read where there was a character that served in the Iraq War during the Obama administration.

I enjoyed the whole premise of the book and how it evolved from starting as one thing and becoming another. I also enjoyed the palpability of the
Miss Clark
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
13-yr. old writing a book (list of swear words replacements in beg. chapter!)about his life in Providence, RI city neighborhood - Dad fired from job at cleaning co. Mom works P/T in cleaners, brother Franklin in Iraq. Best friends: Lucky, big kid who "quits football to tick off his dad" and Jorge, short, skinny: "you'd label him a punk because he walks with an attitude... sometimes he's very mellow,... other days I wish his ear was an on-and-off switch, so I could lean over and shut him down." ...more
Thirteen-year-old John "Houdini" Smith Jr. is inspired by a visiting author to start chronicling the events of his life, because he can certainly write about being a kid better than a lot of the authors he's read, whose thirteen-year-old characters are nothing like the real thing. And he has a lot to write about. His parents have big-time money worries; his older brother is a Marine in Iraq; his two best friends and he have just started a lawn-service business, courtesy of a sleazy politician; ...more
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The thing I loved about this book was the realism of the setting and characters. Taking place in a run down neighborhood in Providence, John Smith Jr. AKA Houdini, has a brother serving in Iraq, a father who is worried about his job, and a mother who works to make ends meet. His friend Jorge has no idea who his father is. Houdini's other friend, Lucky, has an alcoholic father. The boys are afraid of the neighborhood bully, Angel Dimitri, and a neighbor they fear, Old Man Jackson, a one-armed, ...more
Anton Moore
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a unique piece of work, but in some ways, is similar to our anchor book, "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton. They both involve young adults with problems, which of course are different but have some similarities. They both have trouble with some type of physical endangerment. Houdini, has a bully problem, while Ponyboy and the gang have a rival gang with a mindset to give ruthless and relentless beatings to them. The dates of the books are far from close, "The Outsiders" going all the ...more
Dec 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-read
I won this book through one of the giveaway drawings and was very excited as it is the first time I have won a book on

I thought it was a nice story touching on a variety of real world topics. I think that any pre-teen boy or girl reading this could relate to the characters and the challenges they faced. I could imagine these boys as very real, maybe even boys in my own town. I also learned a little more about Houdini than I knew.

I don't agree that it is age appropriate for 8-10
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

In 1951, Peter Johnson was born in Buffalo, New York. He received his BA from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his MA and PhD in English from the University of New Hampshire. He is the winner of the 2001 James Laughlin Award for his second collection of prose poems, Miracles & Mortifications