Anna Olswanger, author of Shlemiel Crooks, remembers fondly fellow Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators member Sid Fleischman, who died of cancer on March 17, 2010, the day after his ninetieth birthday.
Sid Fleischman, the Newbery Award-winning author of The Whipping Boy, was originally born in Brooklyn, New York, but he grew up in Sand Diego. A magician at heart, he traveled in vaudeville as a performing magician, but his live performances were transformed into the mysteries of writing. Fleischman attempted, at first, to write for adults, and then, he wrote some screenplays. Only when he began to write children’s books did he find literary success. He wrote over thirty-six books for children, including the McBroom series, By the Great Horn Spoon!, and Mr. Mysterious and Company.
Anna Olswanger was very fortunate to capture Fleischman’s love for his writing and his audience in an interview she conducted in 2002 at a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in L. A.:
Olswanger: What are some of the intangible rewards of writing for you?
Fleischman: There’s the satisfaction in knowing that your books have had an impact. You discover that from the letters you get. Kids tell you they have gotten pleasure from your books, or parents and teachers let you know that one of your books turned a resistant child on to reading. There’s also the reward of doing a good job. When you finish a novel, and you’ve solved the problems, that’s a tremendous satisfaction. And there’s the reward of the lifestyle that writing has given me. I have complete freedom, although we writers work ourselves much harder than people who have a boss. I work seven days a week, and I don’t know how many hours between doing all the things that go along with it — researching, writing, answering the mail. If I were working for a salary, I would want a raise!
Olswanger: Which of your books are you the proudest of?
Fleischman: The Whipping Boy is one. By the Great Horn Spoon!, a novel about the California Gold Rush, is a second. By the Great Horn Spoon! has been continuously in print for more than 40 years and sells a huge number of copies every year. It’s widely read in fourth grades in the West. That and The Whipping Boy, I suppose, will be my legacy. It’s not to say there aren’t others out there I’m happy with. I’ve had fun with the McBroom stories. I love Mr. Mysterious and Company — I can’t tell you the magicians I’ve met who were turned on to magic by that novel. And I think Scarebird is the best piece of work I’ve done. I wish I could do. It’s a picture book, one of those books you feel you wrote under special grace that doesn’t visit you often. I had all kinds of problems with it, but the finished book is as close to perfection as I will come.
Fleischman left behind his son, Paul Fleischman, who is a writer and poet. Like father, like son: Paul received the Newbery Award for his book of poetry Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices in 1989. Fleischman received his award in 1987.
As an amazing author and a talented magician, Fleischman’s love for these performing arts remains timeless and can be found in several of his published works as well as in the hearts and imaginations of many children.