Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 23, 2010

Farewell Sid Fleischman – Writer Extraordinaire

Sid Fleischman passed away last week at the age of 90 years old.  He was a wonderful writer, a genius with words–he has written for adults and for children; written screenplays, plays and lyrics as well as novels and  biographies, and he had more talent in his little finger than most writers accrue in a lifetime.  Whipping Boy won him the Newbery Award in 1987.

Not only did words slide easily off his tongue; his fingers could manipulate cards and coins and make children ooh and aah with surprise and pleasure.  He was a practicing magician from his teens, met Houdini ‘s widow and charmed her as he would so many other people in his lifetime.  He fought in WW II, made movies with John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Maureen O’Hara, and several famed directors.  He had stories that would keep you glued to your seats, just as his books would keep you reading for hours.  He sold a picture book in the last few weeks before his death, just as he tried a whole new writing genre, biographies, in the last decade of his life. 

He wrote all the way up to the end.  You will find his last book on store shelves in April –


Here is an example of Sid’s writing and a few tips for writers.

1.  When possible. give important characters an “entrance”. That’s why grand staircases were invented.

2. Write in scenes. It’s generally hard to find any pulse in straight narration. Color it gray. Show: don’t tell. Color it splashy.

Here is the opening scene of Bo & Mzzz Mad.  “I might have opened the story with Bo’s cousin Madeleine, who calls herself Mzzz Mad, waiting for him at the bus stop. There’s no drama in that. and I wanted to give Mzzz Mad an entrance, as you will see. Note weather report, imagery, etc.”


The bus pulled away, leaving Bo standing alone at the windy crossroads. He looked all around for someone to meet him. There was no one in sight – nothing, in fact, but a clump of cactus and blowing sand and a snake’s track in the dirt road.

But there was a homemade sign with a fading blue finger pointing towards the hills. Bo found the sign reassuring; the bus driver had let him off at the right place.


Bo had a couple of relatives there, tenth or fifteenth cousins or something. Had they forgotten he was coming? He guessed that was just like those rattlebrained Martinkas. Bo himself was on the Gamage side of the family. His folks and the Martinkas hadn’t been on speaking terms since the Stone Age, as far as he knew. Or even before.

He hung around for a while in the shade of some dusty runt of a tree. He hunkered down on his heels and listened to the lonely whistle of the wind. Then he decided he might as well leg it before he dried up and blew away like everying else he could see out here on the desert.

Bo had walked about a mile, getting drier and thirstier, when he noticed a rising cloud of chalky road dust ahead. Barrelling toward him was an old Chevy pickup truck the color of Day-Glo red lipstick. On it came, rattling and squeaking and thumping like a one-man band. He had to jump out of the way before the girl at the wheel discovered there were brakes on the truck.

“Run me down, why don’t you?” he yelled.

She backed up a little and hung out the window. “Trying to. You my cousin Bo? You one of them ornery Gamages? Where’re your horns and your mangy tail?”

Farewell Sid, 

The world is a poorer, sadder place without you, and the written page will not sing as often nor elicit such rich and genuine laughter.  You will be missed by so many around the world.



  1. Thank you Kathy. Yes, he will be missed, but he worked hard to leave us with many treasures to read and reread.


    • Mary,

      You are correct. He left us with all his treasures and he had a long a successful life, which we should all be happy and celebrate.



  2. Thanks for this lovely tribute, Kathy. And what a great inspiration even that one sampling of his writing is.


  3. You know, Kathy, I’d seen his Whipping Boy on the Newbery list, but I’ve never read it. In just reading the short excerpt you posted here, it makes me want to read anything he ever wrote! Thank you for pointing out another wonderful author. I wish I had more time to read them all!


    • Donna,

      I hate to admit that is one of the Newbery books that I haven’t read, either. I, like you, find it hard to find the time to read all those wonderful books. I have at least a dozen on my night stand waiting for me to read. I always buy all the books of the authors I personally know and then if I go to a conference I buy three or four books by the speakers. So even though I am reading a lot, there are always more to read. I haven’t read the Hunger Games, but everyone has been talking about that book so much, I know I am going to buy that too.

      When my parents passed away, my father had over 1000 books that I brought home. He had bought out a bookstore years ago, just so he could read all the books. He never finished reading all of them and I know I will never get to them. I probably am pushing a 1000 books of my own, but I have a lot of picture books in my collection. It is quite an undertaking finding places to store all those books.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: