Sid Fleischman: Tall Tales and Magical Fun

His dad was "an airy optimist with nimble skills." His mom was a crackerjack card player. Both came from old Europe with the great wave of Jewish immigrants in the early part of the 20th century, and both were jim-dandy storytellers.

Sid helped his parents at their neighborhood store in San Diego, California. This was during the Great Depression when no one had much money, but he found that for just a dime he could hang out all day at the traveling vaudeville show. There he met his first magician, a lady sharpshooter, and other amazing performers whose memories would one day be conjured for the Wild West boy-and-his-dog story, Jim Ugly.

He did more than just watch the acts-- he learned many of the magician's tricks. By the time the show left town, Fleischman knew he wanted to be a professional conjurer. When he discovered the local professional magician's guild, they saw his potential and let him join their group, young as he was. By the time that he was sixteen, he was performing professionally. By age 17, he had written his first book of magic tricks and was ready, in the company of another teen friend from the magicians' club, to take the show on the road in a beat-up car after graduating from high school.

World War II brought a quick career change and the beginning of a long and happy marriage to sweetheart Betty Taylor. After four years in the Naval Reserve, he went back to college in San Diego and upon graduation worked as a reporter and magazine editor. He wrote successful novels and screenplays for adults, but as his kids came along, he turned to writing for a younger audience.

Sid Fleishman's books are quick reads and laugh-out-loud funny. There's enough history in several of them (By the Great Horn Spoon! Jim Ugly) to make social studies teachers happy, and the sidesplitting doings on McBroom's farm are classic American tall tales, perfect for reading out loud to English classes. How does he do it? The author says he first imagines a setting, such as pirate days on the high seas, the California gold rush, or traveling magic shows, and fills them in with brave kids and flashy, beloved characters from his childhood memories. You can find more writing tips at his Web site.

Fun Fleischman Facts:

  • His huge writing desk was custom-made for John Wayne.
  • His Newbery-winning book, The Whipping Boy, took ten years to write.
  • He wrote screenplays for the 3-2-1 Contact t.v. show.
  • Some of his ideas for books come from real folk beliefs (The Hey Hey Man, The 13th Floor)
  • It runs in the family! His son, Paul Fleischman, also won the Newbery Medal.
  • Disney made a film from his book, By the Great Horn Spoon! They renamed their version Bullwhip Griffin.
  • His recent adventure story, Disappearing Act, follows the Fleischman formula for fast-paced fun.

Some Fleischman Favorites:

Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life
Older readers will enjoy peeking behind the curtain to discover the warm and joyous life of the Sid Fleischman, from his early days as a stage magician, to his decades writing news, screenplays, and, yes, terrific children's books.

Jim Ugly
The adventures of twelve-year-old Jake and Jim Ugly, his father's part-mutt, part-wolf dog, as they travel through the Old West trying to find out what really happened to Jake's father.

The Midnight Horse
A boy named Touch enlists the help of the Great Chaffalo, a ghostly magician, to thwart his great-uncle's plans to put Touch into the orphan house and swindle the Red Raven Inn away from pretty Miss Sally.

McBroom Tells a Lie
Farmer McBroom's wonderful one-acre farm can grow just about anything by the bushel and in record time. In this installment of the tall tale series, McBroom and his family get through the hard times with the help of a wonderful popcorn machine, a chunk of frozen sunlight, and a whole lot of jumping beans.

The Whipping Boy
A bratty prince and his clever, rat-catching whipping boy have exciting adventures when they trade places after being kidnapped by dangerous outlaws. Winner of the Newbery Award.

Click here for all the books by Sid Fleischman that are owned at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

On the Web

Biography Resource Center: Sid Fleischman
http://www.librarypoint.org/articles_databases
Use your CRRL card to find, read, and print articles from Contemporary Authors, St. James Guide to Children's Writers, and Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults.

Sid Fleischman Humor Award
http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Sid-Fleischman-Award
"The Sid Fleischman Humor Award is an award for authors whose work exemplifies the excellence of writing in the genre of humor. The SCBWI (Society of Children?s Book Writers and Illustrators) established the award to honor humorous work, so often overlooked in children?s literature, by other award committees."

Sid Fleischman: Official Site
http://www.sidfleischman.com/
ENTER the author's site to:
VIEW an Astounding BIOGRAPHY
SEEK Answers to Your Fabulous QUESTIONS
GAZE at Sid's Celebrated BOOKS
EYE Sid's Awesome AWARDS
LEARN 9 Dazzling Tips for WRITERS
BEHOLD! A Wondrous MAGIC TRICK

Web English Teacher: Sid Fleischman
http://www.webenglishteacher.com/sfleischman.html
More than a dozen fourth grade activities to use with his book, By the Great Horn Spoon!