The Newbery-winning author of The Whipping Boy was surprised that he grew up to be a writer. "I had a childhood much like everyone else's. What went wrong?"
But his early years weren't really so typical. Born in Brooklyn, he grew up in San Diego during the Great Depression and decided in the fifth grade to become a magician. He practiced so diligently with cards, coins, and the occasional rabbit that shortly after high school he was traveling the country in the last days of vaudeville, performing magic with a midnight ghost-and-goblin show. Magic's suspense and surprises would stamp his future books. "I was on the way to becoming a writer," he wrote in his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid. "I just didn't know it."
After serving in World War II with the U.S. Naval Reserve, he finished college and worked as a reporter on the San Diego Daily Journal. When the paper folded in 1950, he turned to writing fiction. Noir mysteries and adventure novels rolled out of his typewriter, many of them set in the Far East he'd seen during the war. When one of these--Blood Alley--was picked for the silver screen, he was invited to write the screenplay. The film would star John Wayne and Lauren Bacall and launch him in yet another career--Hollywood screenwriter.
His children led him into writing for the young. "They didn't understand what I did for a living. Other fathers left home in the morning and returned at the end of the day. I was always around the house. I decided to clear up the mystery and wrote a book just for them." That book was Mr. Mysterious & Co, describing the adventures of a traveling magic family in the old West. By the Great Horn Spoon, The Whipping Boy, and over forty other titles for children would follow, from the tall-tale exploits of the McBroom family to sparkling biographies of Mark Twain and Harry Houdini.
Where did all these ideas come from? History and folklore were often his starting point. 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. Josh McBroom's astounding one-acre farm grew out of the frontier tradition of tale-telling one-upmanship. The problem for the writer, Fleischman said, is not so much finding an idea as in figuring out what to do with it.
"When I didn't know much about writing, I wrote fast." Later, he took longer, especially when he couldn't figure out how to get his characters out of the jams he'd put them in. "I write my books in the dark. I don't like to know what's going to happen next until I get there."
As a children's book author, he felt a special obligation to his readers. "The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever. They have a special impact. Paragraph after paragraph and page after page, the author must deliver his or her best work." His own work, known for its humor, drama, and vivid description, was created in an old-fashioned, two-story house full of creaks and character in Santa Monica, California.
This was also the childhood house of his son, Paul Fleischman, author of the Newbery-winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. They are the only parent and child to receive Newbery awards.
Newbery Medal, 1987, The Whipping Boy. You can read Sid Fleischman's acceptance speech here.
Hans Christian Andersen Award nomination, 1994, for the body of his work
The Sid Fleischman Humor Award is given each year in his honor by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
American Book Awards finalist
The California Young Reader Medal
Silver Medal, Commonwealth Club of California
The Lewis Carroll Shelf Award
The Mark Twain Award (Missouri)
The Young Hoosier Award (Indiana)
The Golden Archer Award (Wisconsin)
The Charlie May Simon Award (Arkansas)
Parent's Choice Award
The Literary Fellowship from the Magic Castle's Academy of Magical Arts for his writing in the field of magic