Tuesday, March 23, 2010

RIP Albert Sidney Fleischman

Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman, a prolific author of more than 60 fiction and nonfiction books for children, died March 17 at his home in Santa Monica, CA, one day after turning 90.

In addition to winning the Newbery Medal for The Whipping Boy (Greenwillow, 1986), Fleischman’s works have garnered numerous awards. His favorite book, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk (Greenwillow, 2007), about an American soldier in post-World War II Europe possessed by the spirit of a dybbuk, won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award. Humbug Mountain (Little Brown, 1978) won the 1979 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and was also a National Book Award finalist. Speaking about Humbug Mountain, children’s literary critic Anita Silvey said in her 100 Best Books for Children (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) that it “manages to combine history and adventure, a fast paced plot, and the essence of a western novel in a text that reads aloud beautifully.”

Fleischman was a teller of tall tales and a humorist who often set his stories in the American west or farm country. Author Jane Yolen, in her Twentieth Century Children’s Writers, said Fleischman had “made the particular voice of the tall tale so much his own that, if any one author could be said to be the master of the genre, it is he.”

The best example of this is seen in Fleischman’s "McBroom" series, which chronicles the impossible happenings of Josh, Melissa, and their 11 red-headed children on their Iowa farm. In addition, he wrote a number of nonfiction books based on famous people including, ESCAPE! The Story of the Great Houdini (Greenwillow, 2006), The Trouble Begins at 8, A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West (Greenwillow, 2008), and his last book with HarperCollins, scheduled to be released in June, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World. In an interview about the book, Fleischman says he has a theory about who Chaplin’s real father may have been.

Fleischman’s first book for children was Mr. Mysterious & Company (Little, Brown, 1962), which was written for his own children, who served as characters in the book. The Whipping Boy, which took 10 years to write, is about Jemmy, the whipping boy for Prince Brat, who run away together and have a prince and pauper experience. Trev Jones, SLJ’s book review editor, was chair of the Newbery Committee in 1987 when the book was selected for the honor. “Calling him with the news, I got his wife, who explained that he was in the shower,” says Jones, adding that she was always a fan of Fleischman’s books, dating back to her days as a children’s librarian who used to booktalk his McBroom series. “I told her I just had to talk to him right away, and that I’d call back. I guess I didn’t wait long enough. ‘How long does he shower?’ I asked in an exasperated voice. ‘Just who are you?’ she asked, totally puzzled.”

Jones also recalls the Newbery banquet in San Francisco that year when Fleischman broke with tradition and took a different approach to the receiving line. “He walked down the line, shaking everyone’s hand instead of waiting for everyone to approach him. I think it was the quickest receiving line in the history of the Newbery/Caldecott dinner. What a charming, gracious, and funny man.”

Albert Sidney Fleischman was born in Brooklyn on March 16, 1920 to Jewish immigrant parents. Early in his, life his family relocated to San Diego. As a teen during the depression, he became interested in magic and developed an act called the Mirthful Conjurers with his friend, Buddy Ryan, which they took on the road. It was during this time that the author wrote his first book about magic called Between Cocktails (Abbot Magic, 1939). He sold all rights to the book for $50, and it has never been out of print since.

In 1942, he married Betty Taylor who predeceased him. They had three children, Jane, Anne, and Paul, a poet, who also won the Newbery Medal in 1989 for his book Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (HarperCollins, 1988). To date, they are the only father and son to both receive the honor.

FLEISCHMAN, Albert Sidney
Born: 3/16/1920, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.
Died: 3/17/2010, Santa Monica, California, U.S.A.

Albert Sidney Fleischman's westerns - screenwriter.
The Deadly Companions - 1961
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin - 1967
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (TV) - 1971

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