Fleischman, Sid 1920-
Fleischman, Sid 1920-
(Max Brindle, Albert Sidney Fleischman, Carl March)
Born March 16, 1920, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Reuben and Sadie Fleischman; married Betty Taylor, January 25, 1942; children: Jane, Paul, Anne. Education: San Diego State College (now University), B.A., 1949. Hobbies and other interests: Magic, gardening.
Home—305 10th St., Santa Monica, CA 90402.
Writer. Worked as a magician in vaudeville and night clubs, 1938-41; traveled with Mr. Arthur Bull's Francisco Spook Show (magic act), 1939-40; Daily Journal, San Diego, CA, reporter and rewrite man, 1949-50; Point (magazine), San Diego, associate editor, 1950-51; full-time writer, 1951—. Author of scripts for television show 3-2-1 Contact, 1979-82. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1941-45; served as yeoman on destroyer escort in the Philippines, Borneo, and China.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Writers Guild of America West.
Children's Spring Book Festival Honor Book, New York Herald Tribune, and Honor Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book, both 1962, both for Mr. Mysterious and Company; Spur Award, Western Writers of America, Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People Award, and Junior Book Award, Boys' Clubs of America, all 1964, Recognition of Merit Award, George C. Stone Center for Children's Books, 1972, and Friends of Children and Literature (FOCAL) Award, Los Angeles Public Library, 1983, all for By the Great Horn Spoon!; Juvenile Book Award, Commonwealth Club of California, 1966, for Chancy and the Grand Rascal; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1969, for McBroom Tells the Truth; Children's Spring Book Festival Honor Book, Book World, and Notable Books selection, American Library Association (ALA), both 1971, both for Jingo Django; Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People Award, 1972, for "Comprehensive Contribution of Lasting Value to the Literature for Children and Young People"; Golden Kite Honor Book, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1974, for McBroom the Rainmaker; Mark Twain Award, Missouri Association of School Libraries, and Charlie May Simon Children's Book Award, Arkansas Elementary School Council, both 1977, and Young Hoosier Award, Association for Indiana Media Educators, 1979, all for The Ghost on Saturday Night; National Book Award finalist, and Award for Fiction, Boston Globe-Horn Book, both 1979, both for Humbug Mountain; Newbery Medal, ALA, and Children's Books of the Year selection, Child Study Association of America, both 1987, both for The Whipping Boy; Paul A. Witty Award, International Reading Association, and Children's Picturebook Award, Redbook, 1988, both for The Scarebird; Parents' Choice Award, 1990, for The Midnight Horse, and 1992, for Jim Ugly; Nene Award, 1992, for The Whipping Boy; Jo Osbourne Award for Humor in Children's Literature, 1997; Children's Literature Council of Southern California Award, 1997, for The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life; Charley May Simon Children's Book Award, Arkansas Elementary School Council, and Black-Eyed Susan Award (Maryland), both 1998, and California Young Reader Medal, 1999, all for The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story; John and Patricia Beatty Award, California Library Association, 1999, and FOCAL Award, Los Angeles Public Library, 2002, both for Bandit's Moon; Golden Dolphin Award, Southern California Children's Booksellers Association; Literary Fellowship, Magic Castle's Academy of Magical Arts, 2002; establishment of Sid Fleischman Humor Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 2003.
FICTION; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS
Mr. Mysterious & Company, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1962, reprinted, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1997.
By the Great Horn Spoon!, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1963, published as Bullwhip Griffin, Avon (New York, NY), 1967.
The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, illustrated by Warren Chappell, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1965, new edition illustrated by Peter Sis, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Chancy and the Grand Rascal, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1966, reprinted, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Longbeard the Wizard, illustrated by Charles Bragg, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1970.
Jingo Django, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1971, reprinted, Dell (New York, NY), 1995.
The Wooden Cat Man, illustrated by Jay Yang, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972.
The Ghost on Saturday Night, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974, new edition illustrated by Laura Cornell, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Kate's Secret Riddle Book, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1977.
Me and the Man on the Moon-Eyed Horse, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977, published as The Man on the Moon-Eyed Horse, Gollancz (London, England), 1980.
Humbug Mountain, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.
Jim Bridger's Alarm Clock and Other Tall Tales, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Dutton (New York, NY), 1978.
The Hey Hey Man, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1979.
The Whipping Boy, illustrated by Peter Sis, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1986.
The Scarebird, illustrated by Peter Sis, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1988.
The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, illustrated by Peter Sis, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The Midnight Horse, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Jim Ugly, illustrated by Joseph A. Smith, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1992.
The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, illustrated by Peter Sis, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Bandit's Moon, illustrated by Joseph A. Smith, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1998.
A Carnival of Animals, illustrated by Marylin Hafner, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Bo and Mzzz Mad, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Disappearing Act, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Giant Rat of Sumatra; or, Pirates Galore, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The White Elephant, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2006.
"MCBROOM" SERIES; FOR YOUNG READERS
McBroom Tells the Truth, illustrated by Kurt Werth, Norton (New York, NY), 1966, new edition illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981, new edition illustrated by Amy Wummer, Price Stern Sloan (New York, NY), 1998.
McBroom and the Big Wind, illustrated by Kurt Werth, Norton (New York, NY), 1967, new edition illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.
McBroom's Ear, illustrated by Kurt Werth, Norton (New York, NY), 1969, new edition illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.
McBroom's Ghost, illustrated by Robert Frankenberg, Grosset (New York, NY), 1971, new edition illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981, new edition illustrated by Amy Wummer, Price Stern Sloan (New York, NY), 1998.
McBroom's Zoo, illustrated by Kurt Werth, Grosset (New York, NY), 1972, new edition illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.
McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm (includes McBroom Tells the Truth, McBroom and the Big Wind, and McBroom's Ghost), illustrated by Quentin Blake, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1972, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1992.
McBroom the Rainmaker, illustrated by Kurt Werth, Grosset (New York, NY), 1973, new edition illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982, new edition illustrated by Amy Wummer, Price Stern Sloan (New York, NY), 1999.
McBroom Tells a Lie, illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976, new edition illustrated by Amy Wummer, Price Stern Sloan (New York, NY), 1999.
Here Comes McBroom (includes McBroom Tells a Lie, McBroom the Rainmaker, and McBroom's Zoo), illustrated by Quentin Blake, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1976, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1992.
McBroom and the Beanstalk, illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.
McBroom and the Great Race, illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.
McBroom's Almanac, illustrated by Walter Lorraine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1984.
"BLOODHOUND GANG" SERIES; FOR YOUNG READERS
The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of the Flying Clock, illustrated by William Harmuth, Random House/Children's Television Workshop (New York, NY), 1981.
The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of the Cackling Ghost, illustrated by Anthony Rao, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of Princess Tomorrow, illustrated by Bill Morrison, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of the Secret Message, illustrated by William Harmuth, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
The Bloodhound Gang's Secret Code Book, illustrated by Bill Morrison, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of the 264-Pound Burglar, illustrated by Bill Morrison, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
The Straw Donkey Case, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1948.
Murder's No Accident, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1949.
Shanghai Flame, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1951.
Look behind You, Lady, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1952, published as Chinese Crimson, Jenkins (Austin, TX), 1962.
Danger in Paradise, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1953.
Counterspy Express, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1954.
Malay Woman, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1954, published as Malaya Manhunt, Jenkins (Austin, TX), 1965.
Blood Alley, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1955.
Yellowleg, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1960.
The Venetian Blonde, Fawcett Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1963.
Blood Alley (based on the author's book of the same title), Batjac Productions, 1955.
Goodbye, My Lady (based on a novel by James Street), Batjac Productions, 1956.
(With William A. Wellman) Lafayette Escadrille, Warner Bros., 1958.
The Deadly Companions (based on the author's novel Yellowleg), Carousel Productions, 1961.
(With Albert Maltz) Scalawag, Byrna Productions, 1973.
(Under pseudonym Max Brindle) The Whipping Boy (based on the author's book of the same title), Disney, 1994.
Between Cocktails, Abbott Magic Company (Colon, MI), 1939.
(Under pseudonym Carl March) Magic Made Easy, Croydon (New York, NY), 1953.
Mr. Mysterious's Secrets of Magic (nonfiction; for young readers), illustrated by Eric von Schmidt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1975, published as Secrets of Magic, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1976.
The Charlatan's Handbook, L & L Publishing (Tahoma, CA), 1993.
The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life (autobiography; for children), Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to Crosscurrents of Criticism, edited by Paul Heins, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1977. Fleischman's books have been translated into sixteen languages.
By the Great Horn Spoon! was filmed as Bullwhip Griffin by Disney, 1967; The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, starring Peter Sellers, was filmed by Cavalcade Films, 1974.
SIDELIGHTS: "While my books rarely draw upon my personal experience," commented author Sid Fleischman in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, "I catch ghostly glimpses of my presence on almost every page. The stories inevitably reveal my interests and enthusiasms—my taste for the comic in life, my love of adventure, the seductions (for me) of the nineteenthcentury American frontier, and my enchantment with the folk speech of that period. Language is a wondrous toy and I have great literary fun with it." Regarded as a master of the tall tale as well as one of the most popular humorists in American children's literature, Fleischman is noted for writing action-filled adventure stories that weave exciting plots, rollicking wit, and joyous wordplay with accurate, well-researched historical facts and characterizations that reveal the author's insight into and understanding of human nature. Among his most beloved stories is The Whipping Boy, a Newbery Medal-winning book that features a spoiled prince and the stoical lad who takes his punishment, and a comic series of tall tales about blustery Iowa farmer Josh McBroom and his amazingly productive one-acre farm. Compared to such writers as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Leon Garfield, Fleischman is praised for his ingenuity, vigorous literary style, polished craftsmanship, and keen sense of humor.
Fleischman's works, which often draw on American folklore and pioneer history and use backgrounds such as the California Gold Rush, seventeenth-century piracy, and rural life from Ohio to Vermont, are consistently acknowledged for their diversity of subjects and settings. Formerly a professional magician, Fleischman fills his books with mystery, elements of surprise, and quick-witted characters. His young protagonists, who are regarded as figures with whom young readers can quickly identify, often embark on quests, noted Emily Rhoads Johnson in Language Arts, "for land or treasure or missing relatives," where "the heroes meet up with every imaginable kind of trouble, usually in the form of villains and cut-throats, impostors and fingle-fanglers." In his Written for Children: An Outline of English Language Children's Literature, John Rowe Townsend asserted that, like Leon Garfield, Fleischman "is fond of flamboyant, larger-than-life characters, and of mysteries of origin and identity; a recurrent Fleischman theme is the discovery of a father or father-substitute." Although he frequently styles his stories as farces, Fleischman underscores his works with a positive attitude toward life and a firm belief in such values as courage, loyalty, and perseverance. The author's love of language—an attribute for which he is often lauded—is evident in the flamboyant names he gives to his characters, his use of wild metaphors and vivid images, and the colorful expressions that dot his stories. Johnson explained that Fleischman's "words don't just sit there on the page; they leap and cavort, turn somersaults, and sometimes just hang suspended, like cars teetering at the top of a roller coaster." Acknowledged as exceptional to read aloud, Fleischman's works are often considered effective choices for reluctant readers.
Reviewers typically provide Fleischman with a warm critical reception. Johnson noted that he has "produced some of the funniest books ever for children," while Jane O'Connor claimed in the New York Times Book Review: "When it comes to telling whopping tall tales, no one can match Sid Fleischman." Writing in the same publication, Georgess McHargue remarked that Fleischman "can put more action into thirty-two pages than some authors of ‘explosive best sellers’ can put into seventy-five turgid chapters." Writing in Horn Book, Mary M. Burns added that although Fleischman's books are expectedly funny, his "transforming setbacks into comic situations and seeing possible triumphs where others with lesser gifts see only disasters … [is perhaps] what makes his books so popular." Observing that Fleischman's characters care deeply about each other, Johnson commented: "This, I feel, is what gives his books their substance and strength. To know Sid Fleischman, in person or through his work, is to experience an affirmation of life." In Twentieth Century Children's Writers, Jane Yolen concluded that Fleischman "has made the particular voice of the tall tale so much his own that, if any one author could be said to be master of the genre, it is he. … [He has made] highly original contributions to the literature of childhood, at least in this critic's opinion."
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Fleischman was raised in San Diego, California. He credited his father, Reuben, a Russian Jewish immigrant whom his son called "an airy optimist with nimble skills," and his mother, Sadie, a "crackerjack penny-ante card player," with fostering his interest in storytelling. "My earliest literary memories," wrote Fleischman in Horn Book, "were funny ones. I remember most vividly the woodman's wife with the link sausages attached to her nose in ‘The Three Wishes.’ That had me rolling in the aisles—or on the living-room carpet. A little later came Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter." Fleischman recalled Aesop's Fables and Uncle Tom's Cabin being read to him by his mother; the book that he claims affected him most profoundly, however, was Robin Hood, which he called "my first great reading experience, and my favorite of those early years." As a minority in San Diego due to his faith, Fleischman developed an empathy for underdogs. "I can see this," he revealed in Language Arts, "in the dynamics of my choice of characters to write about. The butler in By the Great Horn Spoon! The gypsies in Jingo Django. And children, of course, are every generation's underdogs." As a small boy, Fleischman developed a strong interest in magic, voraciously reading books on the subject, perfecting tricks to perform, and creating inventions of his own. At the age of seventeen, he decided to write a book of his original tricks, Between Cocktails; published when Fleischman was nineteen, the book was still in print over fifty years later. "When I saw my name on the cover," Fleischman once recalled, "I was hooked on writing books."
After graduating from high school, Fleischman traveled around the country with stage acts—such as Mr. Arthur Bull's Francisco Spook Show—during the last days of vaudeville. This experience, during which he heard folktales and folk speech in small towns throughout America, is often thought to have influenced the improvisational quality of the author's works; Fleischman's son, Paul, himself a Newbery Award-winning writer, called his father "a prestidigitator of words" in Horn Book, while Fleischman referred to his own writing as "sleight-of-mind" in an interview with Sybil S. Steinberg in Publishers Weekly. During World War II, Fleischman served in the U.S. Naval Reserve on a destroyer escort in the Philippines, Borneo, and China. In 1942, he married Betty Taylor; the couple has three children: Jane, Paul, and Anne. After the war, Fleischman began writing detective stories, suspense tales, and other pulp fiction for adults, learning, he said, "to keep the story pot boiling, to manage tension and the uses of surprise." In 1949, he graduated from San Diego State College and began working as a reporter for the San Diego Daily Journal. A year later, Fleischman became associate editor of Point magazine, a position he held until 1951, when he became a full-time writer. In 1955, he began a career as a screenwriter when his novel Blood Alley was adapted to film.
When his children were young, Fleischman related in Publishers Weekly, they "didn't understand what I did for a living. So one day I sat down and wrote a story for children and read it to them." This book, Mr. Mysterious & Company, which includes Fleischman and his family as characters, became his first published book for children. Describing the warm relationship of the Hackett family, Mr. Mysterious includes the concept of Abracadabra Day, an annual event where children are allowed to be as bad as they want to be without fear of reproach. "A marvelous institution that may well sweep the country," wrote Dorothy M. Broderick in the New York Times Book Review, while Horn Book reviewer Ruth Hill Viguers called Mr. Mysterious "wholly delightful. … It is hard to imagine a child who would not enjoy it."
The "McBroom" series about the Iowan and his fertile farmland was prompted during the writing of Chancy and the Grand Rascal, a story about a young boy and his "coming-and-going" uncle that Jane Yolen called a "perfect blend of one part quest story and two parts tall tale" in the New York Times Book Review. "For all readers who adore braggadocio and consider Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill the apogee of American humor," Yolen continued, " Chancy and the Grand Rascal is a godsend." While coming up with two tall tales for Chancy, Fleischman was so amused by his initial invention that he turned it into the first McBroom book, McBroom Tells the Truth. Although he did not intend to write another story about McBroom, Fleischman has since written a dozen books about the folksy character who entertains young readers with a succession of wild impossibilities on, as Zena Sutherland described it in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "the marvelous McBroom farm, where instantaneous growth from superfertile soil and blazing Iowa sun provide magnificent crops of food and stories"; in addition to his tales about the farmer and his eleven children, Fleischman has written a compendium of McBroom's homespun advice in almanac format. McBroom's shaggy dog stories are usually considered to be as funny as they are unlikely. In Now upon a Time: A Contemporary View of Children's Literature, Myra Pollack Sadker and David Miller Sadker noted that "Fleischman has created a tall tale hero who delights younger independent readers and also provides a grand vehicle for storytelling and reading aloud." Another of Fleischman's most popular series features the Bloodhound Gang, a team of three multiethnic junior detectives. Based on Fleischman's scripts for the 3-2-1 Contact television show for the Children's Television Workshop, the books are fast-paced, fun-to-solve mysteries directed to middle graders and early adolescents that include short chapters filled with plenty of action. In each book, as Judith Goldberger noted in Booklist, "a neatly worked out plot is based on simple, believable gimmicks."
With The Whipping Boy, Fleischman departs from his characteristic yarns with American settings to write a story, in the words of Horn Book reviewer Ethel L. Heins, in "the manner of Joan Aiken and Lloyd Alexander [that is] set in an undefined time and place." Reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper and written in a style that harkens back to that of nineteenth-century melodramas, The Whipping Boy describes how spoiled Horace, nicknamed Prince Brat because of his behavior, runs away with Jemmy, the street-smart orphan who takes the punishment for the things that the prince refuses to do, like learn to read. When they are kidnapped by villains Cutwater and Hold-Your-Nose Billy, the boys switch roles; after escaping the scoundrels in an exciting chase through a rat-filled sewer, Horace and Jemmy return to the palace as friends. Jemmy has learned to sympathize with the prince's restricted life and to admire his courage while realizing his own desire for knowledge, while Horace, who takes a whipping for Jemmy, discovers his personal strength and ability to change. "Like much of the author's writing," maintained Heins, "beneath the surface entertainment, the story also speaks of courage, friendship, and trust." Janet Hickman observed in Language Arts that besides "its lively entertainment value and stylistic polish, the story has much to say about human nature and the vagaries of justice." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Martha Saxton concluded: "This is indisputably a good, rollicking adventure, but in its characterizations The Whipping Boy offers something special."
It took almost ten years for Fleischman to write The Whipping Boy. The initial idea for the book came to the author from some historical research he was doing for another book. In his Newbery Medal acceptance speech printed in Horn Book, Fleischman said: "I stumbled across the catapulting idea for The Whipping Boy. … I checked the dictionary. ‘A boy,’ it confirmed, ‘educated with a prince and punished in its stead.’" Fleischman thought he could write the book quickly, but "after about eighteen months," he recalled in Horn Book, "I was still trying to get to the bottom of page five." Eventually, Fleischman realized the problem. "My original concept for the story was wrong," he explained. "Wrong, at least, for me. I saw The Whipping Boy as a picture book story." One day he read over the manuscript and discovered that his work needed to be much longer: "Once I took the shackles off, the story erupted. Scenes, incidents, and characters came tumbling out of a liberated imagination. Within a few months, I had it all on paper." When told that The Whipping Boy had won the Newbery Medal, Fleischman was elated. "I don't happen to believe in levitation, unless it's done with mirrors, but for a few days I had to load my pockets with ballast. The Newbery Medal is an enchantment. It's bliss. It should happen to everyone."
Following The Whipping Boy, Fleischman published The Scarebird, which contains illustrations by Peter Sis, who has also provided the pictures for several of the author's other works. The story and pictures describe how Lonesome John, whose sole companion is the scarecrow in his yard, slowly makes friends with Sam, an orphan looking for work who comes to John's farm. In her review in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne stated: "In a period of thin picture books, this has much to teach about the substance of story and the complement of illustration." With The Midnight Horse, Fleischman returns to the adventure story genre with a novel that is, in the words Horn Book critic Ethel R. Twichell, "a mixture of tall tale, folktale, and downright magic." The story outlines how Touch, an orphan boy who comes to the town of Cricklewood, New Hampshire—where the entry sign reads "Population 217. 216 Fine Folks and 1 Infernal Grouch"—and reclaims his rightful inheritance from his wicked greatuncle with the help of a ghostly magician. "The enjoyment of the book," Twichell concluded, "lies in Fleischman's exuberant narrative flow and his ingenuity in dispatching his scoundrels." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Midnight Horse a "deftly told tale of innocence and villainy."
Fleischman's next novel, Jim Ugly, is a parody set in the Old West that includes such thinly disguised movie stars of the time as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Mae West, and W.C. Fields. In this story, twelve-yearold Jake discovers that the father that he thought he had buried is alive and is accused of stealing some missing diamonds; with his father's dog—which Jake describes as "part elkhound, part something else, and a large helping of short-eared timber wolf"—as companion, Jake and Jim Ugly travel by baggage car from town to town, trying to escape a villainous bounty hunter; in the end, Jake and his father are reunited in San Francisco and the mystery of the diamonds is solved. In the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Zena Sutherland wrote: "Lively, clever, and humorous, this must have been as much fun to write as it is to read," while School Library Journal contributor Katherine Bruner added: "With a little silent-movie piano accompaniment, this rollicking parody of Western melodrama would effortlessly unfold across any stage."
With The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, Fleischman makes his first contribution to the time-travel genre of fantasy literature. In this work, twelve-year-old Buddy and his lawyer-sister, Liz, are left penniless when their parents are killed in a plane crash. Liz disappears after meeting a client on the thirteenth floor of an old building, and the client turns out to be their ancestor, a young girl ac- cused of witchcraft in Puritan Boston. When Buddy goes after Liz, he is taken by magic elevator to a pirate ship captained by another ancestor and, after being cast adrift, is reunited with Liz, who defends—and acquits—ten-year-old Abigail in court; at the end of the book, the siblings return safely to the twentieth century with a treasure in hand. A critic for Publishers Weekly advised: "Hold on to your hats—there's never a dull moment when Fleischman is at the helm." "An easy, lighthearted adventure," maintained Ann A. Flowers in Horn Book, "yet the author's note also points out the serious consequences of ignorance and superstition."
The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life is Fleischman's autobiography for young readers. Considered as lively and eminently readable as his fiction, The Abracadabra Kid includes Fleischman's personal information as well as his advice on writing; each chapter is introduced with quotes from children's letters to the author, ends with a cliff-hanging episode from his life, and illustrated with black-and-white family photographs. "Sid Fleischman is a pro," asserted Betsy Hearne in the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books, "and it shows in this autobiography as much as it does in his fiction." A Kirkus Reviews contributor claimed that Fleischman "offers a gold mine of interesting reflections of writing," from one who has "lived adventurously and thoughtfully." Mary J. Arnold, reviewing the book in Kliatt, called it an "engaging memoir that serves as proof positive that writing flows from life experience." For Arnold, Fleischman's autobiographical sketch is "nonstop funny and entertaining." Writing in the Voice of Youth Advocates, Candace Deisley further commented: "The reader is rewarded with an appreciation for the author's art, and spurred with the desire to read more of his works."
In another book about magicians, Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini, Fleischman writes about the famous escape artist. The book was inspired when the author received a box of photographs from Houdini's widow, thus making the work an interesting combination of biographical and autobiographical elements, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The critic described Escape! as "a mesmerizing configuration of both lives" resulting in "pure magic."
With Bandit's Moon Fleischman tells a tale of a Mexican bandit and an orphan girl during the California Gold Rush. Annyrose Smith is left in the care of a man who turns out to be less than honorable. Disguised as a boy, she makes her escape, only to be swept up by the outlaw band of legendary Joaquin Murrieta. Murrieta, it turns out, is badly in need of someone to teach him how to read, and he protects the young girl to that end. For her part, Annyrose is shocked by the behavior of the gang, but then she begins to discover the wrongs that have been done to Murrieta and other Mexicans at the hands of the whites. The plot includes the usual combination of fast pace and twists and turns that Fleischman typically employs; Annyrose slowly begins to be won over by Murrieta, saving his life at various times. In the end, however, believing he was responsible for the death of her brother, Lank, she turns on him. Murrieta manages to escape and slip away—unlike what actually happened to him historically. Writing in School Library Journal, Marlene Gawron called the book "classic Sid Fleischman: a quick read, with lots of twists, wonderful phrasing, historical integrity, and a bit of the tall tale thrown in." For a contributor to Publishers Weekly, the novel is more than just "thundering hooves and gunfire." Fleischman, according to this reviewer, "expertly crafts a fictionalized tale that takes a cleareyed look at bigotry and racism, while steering away from the twin pitfalls of pedantry and sermonizing." Similarly, Horn Book critic Ann A. Flowers felt that Fleischman managed to "clothe issues of loyalty and honesty in a roaring adventure story, smartly written and chock full of humor and derring-do."
Another story Fleischman set in nineteenth-century California is The Giant Rat of Sumatra; or, Pirates Galore. In this tale, a young cabin boy saves his captain's life and then follows him to California to assist with his farm. Here, the former captain pursues an ill-considered plot of revenge against a former enemy who has since reformed his ways. Eventually, the boy returns to sea with plans of going back to school and making something of himself. Paula Rohrlick, writing in Kliatt, reported that "adventure and humor abound [in the story], the action moves swiftly, and our young hero is plucky and resourceful." A Publishers Weekly contributor declared it a "boisterous, cleverly crafted caper."
Published in 2000, A Carnival of Animals is a compilation of a half-dozen tall tales about the effects on various animals of a tornado that hits Barefoot Mountain. In "The Windblown Child," for example, a strange pink creature is blown in with the tornado; hairless, her fleece has been whisked away to take the place of missing hair on a bald farmer. "Emperor Floyd" tells of a rooster who develops a peculiar affliction as a result of the storm, and in "Stumblefrog," the amphibian in question gets jumping fever after eating the contents of a sack of Mexican jumping beans that was torn open by the tornado. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that "the glee with which [Fleischman] relates his outrageous yarns is infectious." Booklist critic Gillian Engberg had similar praise for the book of stories, commenting that "as usual, Fleischman writes about the fantastic and absurd with a captivating balance of casual assuredness and precise detail."
Returning to the novel form with Bo and Mzzz Mad, Fleischman serves up another "classic … tale," according to a contributor to Publishers Weekly in a starred review. When twelve-year-old Bo Gamage's parents die, the youth decides to visit long-lost relatives in the Mojave Desert, separated by a family feud involving a lost gold mine. Arriving in Queen of Sheba, California, Bo finds a town that is little more than an old movie set, and its only residents are said relatives. A former actor in Westerns, great-uncle Charlie, alias Paw Paw, is now a full-time grump and tired of life. There is also an aunt and his cousin, Madeleine, who prefers to call herself Mzzz Mad. These two, of course, discover mutual dislike at first sight. Aunt Juna is the only one to take any interest in Bo; she talks him into tricking Paw Paw with a fake treasure map in order to restore his love of life. The map is supposedly one that shows the gold mine that set off the feud between the two sides of the family. But when some modern bandits arrive on the scene, Bo and his feuding relatives get more than they expected and need to pull together to survive. "The narrative speeds along with enough plot twists to keep readers flipping pages," observed Steve Clancy in a School Library Journal review. A contributor for Publishers Weekly also found the book a "thumping good page-turner spiced with humor, snappy descriptions … and a lickety-split plot." The same reviewer felt that Fleischman was "in top form" with Bo and Mzzz Mad.
More orphans appear in Fleischman's 2003 title, Disappearing Act. Kevin and Holly Kidd have just lost their archaeologist mother in an earthquake in Mexico. Now their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is struck by burglars and they think someone is stalking them. To escape their memories and fears, they run off to southern California, living near the Venice boardwalk and renaming themselves Gomez. Kevin becomes Pepe and takes up fortune-telling on the boardwalk, while his older sister, a fledgling opera singer, becomes Chickadee. They slowly establish themselves in this strange new life, making friends with all the local characters, including a juggling medical student, a human mannequin, a screenwriter with a penchant for bugs, and a benevolent landlady. Holly even gets a role in a production of La Boheme. Then the stalker from New Mexico shows up, and all is put into jeopardy again. Booklist contributor John Peters thought that Fleischman mixed "themes both comic and serious" in this story, and was able to pull together the manifold plot lines of "his twisty, nailbiter to an untidy, but satisfying, conclusion." Many critics found that the cast of secondary characters was the primary draw in this novel. Betty Carter, for example, wrote in Horn Book that the book "primarily paints vivid character sketches" but "fails to sustain a coherent plot." For Steven Engelfried in School Library Journal, the "characters and the setting are the main draws," though he also noted that "Fleischman neatly frames the conclusion into something more thoughtful and meaningful" than a mere potboiler.
"Novels are written in the dark," Fleischman commented in an essay for Children's Books and Their Creators. "At least mine are. Unlike many sensible authors, I start Chapter One with rarely a notion of the story that's about to unfold. It's like wandering down a pitch-black theater and groping around for the lights. One by one the spots and floodlights come on, catching a character or two against a painted backdrop. I sit back and enjoy the show. When the final curtain falls a year or two later, the stage is ablaze with lights, and I have a new novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cameron, Eleanor, The Green and Burning Tree, Atlantic/Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1969.
Children's Literature Review, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1976, Volume 15, 1988.
Fleischman, Sid, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Huck, Charlotte S., and Doris Young Kuhn, Children's Literature in the Elementary School, 2nd edition, Holt (New York, NY), 1968.
Meigs, Cornelia, and others, editors, A Critical History of Children's Literature, revised edition, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969.
Sadker, Myra Pollack, and David Miller Sadker, Now upon a Time: A Contemporary View of Children's Literature, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Townsend, John Rowe, Written for Children: An Outline of English Language Children's Literature, revised edition, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1974.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Booklist, September 15, 1976, Barbara Elleman, review of McBroom Tells a Lie, p. 174; April 15, 1981, Judith Goldberger, reviews of The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of the Cackling Ghost and The Bloodhound Gang in the Case of Princess Tomorrow, p. 1159; September 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Abracadabra Kid, p. 126; March 1, 1999, Sally Estes, review of Bandit's Moon, p. 1212; September 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of A Carnival of Animals, p. 113; May 15, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Bo and Mzzz Mad, p. 1750; June 1, 2003, John Peters, review of Disappearing Act, pp. 1774-1775.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1970, Zena Sutherland, review of McBroom's Ear, p. 143; September, 1988, Betsy Hearne, review of The Scarebird, pp. 6-7; March, 1992, Zena Sutherland, review of Jim Ugly, p. 179; October, 1995, p. 53; September, 1996, Betsy Hearne, review of The Abracadabra Kid, pp. 11-12; September 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of A Carnival of Animals, p. 113; May 15, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Bo and Mzzz Mad, p. 1750.
Horn Book, June, 1962, Ruth Hill Viguers, review of Mr. Mysterious & Company, p. 279; October, 1976, pp. 465-470; May-June, 1986, Ethel L. Heins, review of The Whipping Boy, pp. 325-326; July-August, 1987, Sid Fleischman, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," pp. 423-428; July-August, 1987, Paul Fleischman, "Sid Fleischman," pp. 429-432; November-December, 1990, Ethel R. Twichell, review of The Midnight Horse, p. 744; November-December, 1995, Ann A. Flowers, review of The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, pp. 741-742; November-December, 1996, Mary M. Burns, review of The Abracadabra Kid, p. 759; November, 1998, Ann A. Flowers, review of Bandit's Moon, p. 728; May, 2001, review of Bo and Mzzz Mad, p. 323; May-June, 2003, Betty Carter, review of Disappearing Act, p. 345; March-April, 2005, Betty Carter, review of The Giant Rat of Sumatra; or, Pirates Galore, p. 200.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1972, review of McBroom's Zoo, p. 1144; July 1, 1996, review of The Abracadabra Kid, p. 967; March 1, 2003, review of Disappearing Act, p. 383; June 15, 2006, review of Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini, p. 632.
Kliatt, September, 1998, Mary J. Arnold, review of The Abracadabra Kid, p. 35; January, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Giant Rat of Sumatra, p. 8.
Language Arts, 1982, Emily Rhoads Johnson, "Profile: Sid Fleischman," pp. 754-759; December, 1986, Janet Hickman, review of The Whipping Boy, p. 822.
New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1962, Dorothy M. Broderick, review of Mr. Mysterious & Company, p. 30; November 6, 1966, Jane Yolen, review of Chancy and the Grand Rascal, p. 40; September 11, 1977, Jane O'Connor, review of Me and the Man on the Moon-Eyed Horse, p. 32; January 20, 1980, Georgess McHargue, review of The Hey Hey Man, p. 30; February 22, 1987, Martha Saxton, review of The Whipping Boy, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, February 27, 1978, Sybil S. Steinberg, "What Makes a Funny Children's Book?: Five Writers Talk about Their Method," pp. 87-90; August 10, 1990, review of The Midnight Horse, p. 445; October 9, 1995, review of The 13th Floor, p. 86; August 3, 1998, review of Bandit's Moon, p. 86; August 28, 2000, review of A Carnival of Animals, p. 83; March 26, 2001, review of Bo & Mzzz Mad, p. 94; February 21, 2005, review of The Giant Rat of Sumatra, p. 176.
Reading Teacher, April, 1998, review of The Ghost on Saturday Night, pp. 588-589; October, 1999, review of McBroom Tells the Truth, p. 178; June-July, 2003, review of Disappearing Act, p. 32.
Reading Today, June-July, 2003, Lynne T. Burke, review of Disappearing Act, p. 32.
School Library Journal, April, 1992, Katherine Bruner, review of Jim Ugly, pp. 113-114; September, 1998, Marlene Gawron, review of Bandit's Moon, pp. 200-202; October, 2000, Grace Oliff, review of A Carnival of Animals, p. 124; May, 2001, Steve Clancy, review of Bo and Mzzz Mad, p. 149; May, 2003, Steven Engelfried, review of Disappearing Act, p. 150.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1997, Candace Deisley, review of The Abracadabra Kid, pp. 52, 54.
Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1987, Frances Bradburn, review of The Whipping Boy, p. 48.
KidsReads.com,http://www.kidsreads.com/ (September 1, 2006), brief biography of Sid Fleischman.
Sid Fleischman Home Page,http://www.sidfleischman.com (January 12, 2004).