"I write what I am.
When I sit down to a blank sheet of paper,
I may become a yellow-haired boy,
a snarling pirate,
a prankish wizard's ghost,
or even a dog with arrogant wolf's eyes.
But beneath all the makeup, the wigs and putty noses
off on a fresh adventure and having as much fun as I can."
So said the great children's author Sid Fleischman, who passed away in March, 2010. He was 90 years old. Even just reading his bio makes me feel like I am reading a colorful adventure book.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, he grew up in San Diego, CA and decided in 5th grade to become a magician. Just out of high-school he traveled with ghost-and-goblin magic shows and vaudeville. As he said, “I was on my way to becoming a writer, I just didn't know it.”
He wrote a book on magic tricks while still in high school, which he was offered $50 for. This made him realize he had a knack for writing, and he went on to write over 60 children's books, adult novels and movie screenplays. He also won the Newbery Medal in 1987 for The Whipping Boy (which I just finished reading and it was hilariously awesome).
Take a look at our video filmed in 2008, where Sid talks about how he got his start as a writer. I didn't know so much about him before this interview, but after watching this, he had me at “hello!”
Some of his best known books:
- The Whipping Boy – about a spoiled young prince (Prince Brat) and a street urchin who is his “whipping boy” who gets whipped when the prince misbehaves.
- The Thirteenth Floor – a book of witchcraft and illusion that begins with the superstition that there is something evil and magical about the number 13.
- Jim Ugly – please, the title alone got me interested! This one's about an orphan and his dead father's wolf-like dog in the frontier west.
- The McBroom books – (Here Comes McBroom, McBroom Tells a Lie, McBroom's Wonderful One Acre Farm, etc). Tall tales from the farm. Includes one about a summer so dry that the McBroom cow only produced powdered milk. Funny stuff.
- The Ghost in the Noonday Sun – arose from the folk belief that anyone born at the stroke of midnight has the power to see ghosts.
- Mr. Mysterious & Company – Sid wrote this book to help his kids understand what he did for a living. They didn't understand why other dads went into an office or job each day and he stayed at home. This started his foray into children's books.
He also did bios of Houdini and Mark Twain, and Charlie Chaplin, which I'll have to check out.
Take a look at this video where Sid talks about his writing process. (Good for all you aspiring writers!) Supposedly, Sid wrote his books at a huge table cluttered with projects: story ideas, library books, research, letters, notes, pens, pencils, and a computer. (Nice to know you don't have to be a neat freak to be a good writer!)
And lastly, this video clip includes some words of advice for young writers straight from Sid himself:
In my opinion, he is one of those timeless authors whose books you could read now … or fifty years from now, and the book would still be great. The world was lucky to have him, and I'm sure he'll inspire the next generation of writers. Sid Fleischman, you will be missed.
— Ratha, Stacks Writer