Sid Fleischman, 1920 - 2010
- Friday, March 19, 2010
It is with great sadness that we bring you the news that writer and long time SCBWI board member Sid Fleischman
died March 17 at his home in Santa Monica. He was 90.
Best known as a writer of fiction for children--his novel The Whipping Boy
won the Newbery Medal in 1987--Sid also wrote screenplays, suspense novels for adults, books on magic, and nonfiction. Sir Charlie, his forthcoming biography of Charlie Chaplin, will be published in June.
Sid was one of the founding members of the SCBWI, one of the original believers. His support of the SCBWI in its very infancy was a major part of our survival and our growth. He was the first keynote speaker at the first SCBWI conference way back in 1972, and has been on the SCBWI Board of Advisors ever since. A writer’s writer, Sid spoke at many SCBWI national, international and regional conferences, always generously dispensing his culled wisdom on the art of writing for children. We often heard him say, “In writing, nothing is wasted but the paper.” Or “Give your main character a great entrance.” Or “Be sure to provide a weather report.” Or “Each scene should move your story forward.” His wisdom on writing was legendary.
Born in Brooklyn, Sid grew up in San Diego during the Great Depression and decided as a child to become a magician. Still in his teens, he traveled widely in vaudeville and with a midnight ghost-and-goblin show. "I was on the way to becoming a writer," he recalled. "I just didn't know it."
After wartime service with the U.S. Navy, he finished college and worked as a reporter on the San Diego Daily Journal. When the paper folded in 1950, he turned to fiction writing. His move to children's books was inspired by his three children. "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 and Company
, published in 1962, which began his monumental career in children’s books.
The book that followed, By the Great Horn Spoon
, a rollicking account of the California Gold Rush, has been required 4th-grade reading in California schools and was filmed under the title Bullwhip Griffin
. More than 50 books were to follow, mixing zesty humor, tight plotting, and a love of language and the byways of history.
Sid ventured into autobiography with The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life
in 1996, continuing with biographies of Harry Houdini and Mark Twain. Aside from the Newbery Medal, he received the California Young Readers Medal, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, The Mark Twain Award, and the Commonwealth Club of California's Silver Medal. He and his son, Paul, also a writer for children, share the distinction of being the only father-son pair to win the Newbery Medal.
In 2003, the SCBWI established an award in Sid’s honor, for humorous writing for children. We will continue to honor his legacy by granting the Sid Fleischman Award to one deserving book each year. Sid was a great writer, a great friend, a great mentor to us all. His loss will be felt by all of SCBWI for a long time, but his work and his memory will survive.--Lin Oliver