So where does the pigeon go when Bonapart makes it disappear? Up his sleeve, right? The Boston-based magician is firm: "In my life, never have I ever put anything up my sleeve." He's been performing magic tricks ever since he was six years old, and does 300 shows a year now.
On the other hand, Bonapart tells his audiences that he's from the purple planet Quylar and is 7,862 years old. So what do you think? John Bonaparte (his real name) did agree to share some of his secrets for doing magic tricks, though. Here they are:
Rule No. 1: Practice
"Don't go out and do your trick for anyone until you're prepared, really prepared," Bonapart says. "Because when you get out there, you might be nervous and not concentrating on what you should be concentrating on, which is just having fun."
When he was a boy (much less than 7,862 years ago), he sat in his room with books piled high around him. He read about everything: science, magic, stamp collecting. But magic tricks were the most fun for him.
"If you learn about butterflies and things," he says, "it's interesting to you, and your family might say 'Oh, that's nice, dear.' But if you learn a magic trick, they'll say 'Ooooh! Aaaah!' "
Two of the first tricks he mastered were "Where Did the Coin Go?" and "The Amazing One-Handed Knot." (You can do them, too. Just follow the directions on these pages.)
Bonapart would spend days practicing tricks in his room in front of a mirror. Then he'd test it on his sister and parents. His first big show was at a Cub Scout banquet. The audience clapped so hard he decided to start charging people to see him. At age 11, he got $55 for doing a show. By age 13, he was making birds disappear.
Rule No. 2: Have fun
Today, Bonapart has added more animals, more tricks, and more fun. When he's on stage, his ever-ready helper is a white dove named Snow. Two rabbits named Winslow and Wally also hop through his tricks.
He tells his audience that the animals are his friends helping him do tricks. It's all part of the second key: "Magic is a fun thing," he says, "So you've got to think fun!" For him, it's not enough just to do tricks. He uses his imagination to entertain, too.
Rule No. 3: Experiment
Once you can do a trick really well, think of eight ways to make it different. "Wave your wand, jump in the air, make up crazy magic words, whatever!" he says.
Try different ways to do the trick, too. For example, some magicians turn a white sheet of paper into a $1 bill. (They really don't, of course, but it sure looks as if they do.) Once you learn that trick, alter it. Turn fake money into real money. Or how about turning a $1 bill into a $10 bill?
Rule No. 4: Don't try to do them all
Bonapart is like the American magician Harry Blackstone, who worked in the early 1900s. He was famous for making horses disappear and handkerchiefs dance. After one of his shows - so the story goes - a hot-shot young magician came backstage. He bragged to Blackstone, "I can do more than 400 tricks. How many can you do?" Blackstone's answer? "Just six."
"Find two or three tricks you have fun doing and practice them," Bonapart suggests. "You don't have to do every trick you read about or see someone do. Then once you've got a few down, try several more."
Look in your local library or magic shop for books on tricks. Here are two: "The Most Excellent Book of How to Be a Magician," by Peter Eldin (Copper Beech Books, 1996) for Grades 3 to 7; and "Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic," by Mark Wilson (Courage Books, 1988). Or check out these Internet sites:
The Amazing One-Handed Knot
You'll need a very flexible rope about three feet long. (If your rope is too stiff, try pulling out its center core to make it more limp. Magic stores also carry special rope.) Hold out your arm, palm down, the way Bonapart has his at left. Drape the rope over your hand. About six inches of rope should hang down between your thumb and fingers.
Twist your hand down and hook the long end of the rope with the tip of your thumb.
Twist your hand back up so that it's level.
Bend your wrist down and grab the short end of the rope between your two middle fingers.
With your wrist still bent, give your hand a sharp downward shake. (Be sure to hang onto the rope with your middle fingers.)
Tah-dah! You've done it! With practice, you can tie this knot as quick as a wink.