This printable supports Common Core ELA Standard ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1, ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 and ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6

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Analyzing a Biography (Grade 9)

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Analyzing a Biography

The Magic of Harry

1 Harry Houdini was a man who astonished and enthralled many people during his life.
Whether he was escaping from a padlocked box or making things disappear and
reappear, he definitely was entertaining. People thought that he must truly have some
supernatural powers, but in fact, what Harry really had was drive.

2 Harry was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874. His real name was Ehrich Weiss and
he was the third of five children. His family moved to Wisconsin not long after he was
born and by the time he was nine, he was tying ropes all over his backyard and learning
amazing trapeze tricks to show his friends and neighbors. He visited the local locksmith, and when he had reached his teens he could pick almost any lock that was made. He also learned how to do card tricks. He and his brother, Theo, would often entertain at local parties and clubs for extra money.

3 When Ehrich was 16, he came across a book that would literally change his life: the
biography of France's greatest magician, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. It showed Ehrich
that his hobby of magic and tricks could also be a career. Immediately, he changed his
name to Harry Houdini. He and Theo headed out to make a living as magicians.

4 In 1893, they were at the Chicago World's Fair, and after that they traveled around giving magic shows for anyone willing to listen and pay. Theo grew restless, however, as the jobs became scarce, so he left. His timing was perfect since Harry had just fallen in love with a lovely woman named Bess who was just the right size for slipping in and out of the trunk they used in their magic tricks. They married immediately and then off they went, traveling with circuses and other road shows. Harry learned more and more tricks and spent much of his time reading and studying all kinds of locks, especially handcuffs. However, no matter what tricks they did or how hard they tried, Bess and Harry were not doing well. They tried to sell their shows for seven years and finally, in desperation, they went to Europe.

5 It was the right move. Harry's persistence and constant practice were about to pay off. To get people's attention, he walked into police stations and offered to be handcuffed by all the policemen. They were shocked when he was loose only seconds later. Soon, everyone in Europe was talking about Houdini's astounding feats. He was in high demand and found himself doing more and more dangerous acts. He escaped from a straitjacket hanging upside down over the street; he escaped from locked boxes of all kinds; and, of course, he got out of any kind of handcuffs put on him.

6 After several years in Europe, Bess and Harry returned to the United States in triumph. Harry was doing such amazing tricks that people felt he must have special powers. However, few realized how much time he spent practicing and studying. He would do special exercises to keep his body strong, and he would do tricks with his fingers to keep them nimble and flexible. He would spend large amounts of time tying and untying knots?with his toes! For his underwater tricks, he would get in the bathtub and practice holding his breath for longer and longer times. Since many of his tricks involved being plunged into icy water, he would pour buckets of ice in the tub to get accustomed to working in the cold.

7 The reason that Harry Houdini was such a success was that he practiced and prepared for whatever might happen. When a college student punched him in the abdomen in 1926, however, he wasn't prepared. The punch did internal damage that not even this magician could get out of. Harry died in 1926 at 52 years of age, a master of his trade and a true legend.
The author supports the argument that Houdini was a hard worker by describing...
  1. how he prepared
  2. his famous tricks
  3. his childhood
  4. how he became popular
Houdini decided to become a magician after:
  1. he read a book about a famous magician
  2. he learned to pick a lock
  3. he started entertaining at local parties
  4. he learned to do card tricks
Read this sentence from the passage.

Harry's persistence and constant practice were about to pay off.
You can tell from the sentence that persistence means:
  1. desperation
  2. long journey
  3. refusal to quit
  4. education
Read this sentence from the passage.
Harry Houdini was a man who astonished and enthralled many people during his life.
You can tell from the sentence that enthralled means:

A apart.
B vanished.
C convinced.
D fascinated.
  1. apart
  2. vanished
  3. convinced
  4. fascinated
Sir Ernest Shackleton was no stranger to resilience. In fact, one of his ships was named Endurance. Shackleton had a mission to make to the Antarctic and explore what he found there. Nothing, not health, being beaten to the continent by other explorers and other setbacks could keep him from fulfilling his mission. At every setback, he continued to be determined to stay the course.

Early Life
Ernest Shackleton was born on February 15, 1874 in Ireland. As a child his family moved around Ireland and then settled in London, England. While he had a fairly uneventful childhood, there was one activity Shackleton really enjoyed – reading. Through books, he went on many adventures and those adventures would come to shape the adventurous spirit that would guide his adult life. When he was 16, Shackleton’s sense of adventure developed even more when he joined the Merchant Navy.

He started his time in the Navy completing an apprenticeship aboard the Hoghton Tower, a ship owned by the North Western Shipping Company. Shackleton’s thirst for adventure grew as the ship traveled around the Earth. He continued working for shipping companies and developing his skills, but he longed to do something bigger. According to the book Ernest Shackleton: Gripped by the Antarctic, Shackleton once confided in a shipmate “I think I can do something better. In fact, really, I would like to make a name for myself” (Johnson, 19).

Becoming an Explorer
The skills that Shackleton developed proved to be worthwhile. In 1901, he was asked to join an expedition and be one of the first people to reach the South Pole. The expedition was led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Shackleton developed resilience while traveling on the ship by having to deal with a captain who had a leadership style he didn’t like. During the mission Shackleton also gained new experiences, faced hardships and also had his first taste of failure. He was part of a special march to reach the South Pole with the captain and another man. All of the dogs who accompanied them on the march died. Shackleton and the other men developed scurvy and faced frostbite. After returning from the march, Shackleton was sent home on an emergency ship because he was too weak to continue the journey.

However, for Shackleton, some frostbite, scurvy and general weakness could not keep him away from what because his dream – reaching the South Pole. In 1908, Shackleton joined the Nimrod expedition and became one of the first people to reach the South Polar Plateau. On the way back, he and the other men nearly starved, causing them to learn to ration what they had and often sacrifice food for the health of others.

Shackleton was met with a lot of praise, but that praise did not diminish his hunger for more. Even though he was deeply in debt from the expedition, he continued on with his explorations. Shackleton’s next expedition on the ship Endurance would test his resilience even more. The ship itself became frozen in an ice floe and eventually began to sink, causing all men to abandon ship. Shackleton and his crew were praised for the fact that no lives were lost, but they had to camp for months on ice floes and fight for survival until they could reach land. By the time they reached land, they had been at sea for nearly 500 days and were severely frostbitten.

Shackleton faced other failed expeditions. Then he joined the army during World War I and fought for his country, even though he had a heart condition and was advised against fighting. He drank heavily to ease his pain and help cope with his life in general.
What is the purpose of the opening section of the biography?
  1. To tell how Ernest Shackleton was born
  2. To introduce Ernest Shackleton's family
  3. To explain Ernest Shackleton's job
  4. To introduce the focus of the biography
How does the author choose to organize the passage?
  1. Chronologically
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Main idea with supporting details
  4. Flashback
What purpose do the headings "Early Life" and "Becoming an Explorer" serve?

What picture does the author paint of Sir Ernest Shackleton?

The author thinks poorly of Sir Ernest Shackleton.
  1. True
  2. False
Why did the author most likely bring up Shackleton's drinking?

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