Deaths elsewhere

March 23, 2010|By Tribune Newspapers

SID FLEISCHMAN, 90

Children's book author

Sid Fleischman was a successful suspense novelist and screenwriter, whose credits included the screenplay for his novel "Blood Alley," when he decided to write a book that his young children could read so they would understand just what it was he did at home all day.

"I seem to have written a children's book," Mr. Fleischman wrote to his agent in New York. "If you're not interested, just drop it in the waste basket."

The 1962 lighthearted tale of an Old West traveling magician and his family, "Mr. Mysterious & Company," sold to the first publishing house that read it, launching Mr. Fleischman into a long and much-honored career as a children's book author.

Mr. Fleischman, whose book "The Whipping Boy" earned him the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1987, died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif., the day after his 90th birthday, said a son.

"Sid was a national treasure in the field of children's books," said Lin Oliver, a children's book author and executive director of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. "It really is a monumental loss for the field."

Known for his humor, love of language, adventuresome plotting and nose for history, Mr. Fleischman wrote more than 50 children's books.

"He was a true master of the craft and a writer's writer," said Ms. Oliver, adding that Mr. Fleischman wrote in many genres, including novels, tall tales, picture books and biographies.

"By the Great Horn Spoon!" a lively tale of the California Gold Rush, has been required fourth-grade reading in California and was turned into the 1967 movie "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin."

Mr. Fleischman had written more than 30 children's books when he won the Newbery Medal for "The Whipping Boy."

He was inspired to write the book after discovering the practice of the royal houses of Europe, where, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1987, "the prince, the heir to the throne, couldn't be punished. So if they had a rotten prince, they installed a commoner off the streets, and he took the punishment for the prince. The injustice of it enraged me. The lunacy of it!"

Mr. Fleischman came to enjoy writing for children. In another 1987 Times interview, he recalled the fan letters from children.

"Adult readers never write," he said. "It was the first time I ever felt in touch with my audience."

The list of Mr. Fleischman's books include two biographies for young readers in recent years, "Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini" and "The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West." "Sir Charlie," a biography of Charlie Chaplin, will be published in June.

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