Sid Fleischman, Newbery Award-winning children's author, saw a magician for the first time when he was in fifth grade and was enthralled. For most children, fascination with magic is a passing fancy, but for Fleischman, it stayed with him over the years.
After high school he toured as a professional magician until he served an active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II. Fleischman then went on to college and after graduation he worked as a reporter at the San Diego Daily Journal until the paper folded in 1950.
Fleischman later turned to fiction writing, where one can detect the ongoing influence of magic in his life. Fleischman plotted stories with a magician's mind; he was able to peer around corners and find surprises where they hadn't been before.
He said he first began writing for young people because his own children wondered what he did for a living. Other fathers left in the morning and returned home at night, but he was around the house all day long typing a lot. “I decided to clear up the mystery and wrote a book just for them.” Fleischman read each chapter aloud after he finished it, and his children made comments and suggestions, many of which he used. Writing his first book for children was a family activity.
For Fleischman, finding names for his characters and books was great fun. He said, “I collect interesting names, funny names, and outrageous nicknames, and sometimes the name itself helps me to create a character.” Fleischman's Jingo Django, an ALA Notable book, provides some examples. Characters include Mrs. Daggatt from the orphan house, who hires out Jingo Hawks as a chimney sweep to the awful General Dirty-Face Scurlock.
Sid Fleischman was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in San Diego, California. For more than 40 years he lived in the same house near the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, CA. In his lifetime, he wrote more than 60 books for adults as well as for children, some of which, including The Whipping Boy, have been made into movies.
Fleischman had a special place in his heart for children's books. He said, “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.”
Sid Fleischman died on March 17, 2010, a day after his 90th birthday.