On March 17th, the writing world lost a very talented soul. Sid Fleischman, at age 90, “slipped this mortal coil.” In his writing lifetime he published an enormous number of books, including 50 for children—running the gamut from picture books to biographies. Before becoming an author of books, Mr. Fleischman, was a magician, fought in WWII, became a journalist and finally a writer. His first children’s book, Mr. Mysterious & Company, hit the scene in 1962 and his last children’s fiction book, The Dream Stealer, was published last fall, 2009. His last children’s biography, Sir Charlie Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World, is due out this June.
What I find so impressive about his work is his ability to give each character a unique voice. Jemmy, the main character in Newbery-Medal-winning The Whipping Boy, sounds like what you’d imagine a rat-catcher’s son in 19th century London to sound like, but the prince, for whom Jemmy is whipped, sounds just like a prince. In The White Elephant, Run-Run is indeed a poor, orphaned, elephant handler and the reader sees India. Mr. Fleischman’s sense of humor shows up in his stories, but he also imparts kernels of historical truth. Just read By the Great Horn Spoon if you want to get a feel for the California Gold Rush of the 1840s. Again this master’s use of language paints vivid pictures of the various characters; Praiseworthy being the most proper butler ever to set foot in Boston or the California gold fields.
I’m glad Sid Fleischman had such a long life and was such a prolific writer. After June, we may not see any new books from him, but we can always cherish the ones he left us. Plus, his award winning son Paul can continue the family tradition. My sorrow for his family is tempered by my gratitude for his talent.
(Thank you to Sarah Maury Swan for this tribute to Sid Fleischman!)