The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life

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The autobiography of the Newbery award-winning children's author who set out from childhood to be a magician.

The autobiography of the Newbery award-winning children's author who set out from childhood to be a magician.

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Overview

The autobiography of the Newbery award-winning children's author who set out from childhood to be a magician.

The autobiography of the Newbery award-winning children's author who set out from childhood to be a magician.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"In this funny, poignant, insightful and thoroughly entertaining autobiography, [Fleischman] proves himself an effortless raconteur, possessed of a rapid-fire wit," said PW, in a starred review of the Newbery Medalist's memoirs. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Charles Wyman
With a conversational style, Fleischman invites readers for a look into his life and his craft. In his youth during the Depression, he devoured books on magic, and as a young man, Fleischman was a vaudeville magician. After Navy service in World War II, he returned home and picked up life with his wife Betty. She worked to support them while he struggled to become a writer. He publishing short stories and novels, but really wasn't making a living. At the age of twenty-nine, he became a newspaper copy boy. From then on, he honed his craft until finally hitting it big with Blood Alley. Offered a chance to become a screenwriter for his own novel, Fleischman jumped at it. If it hadn't been for a Hollywood screenwriter's strike, children's literature wouldn't have benefited from his career shift and the more than thirty books Fleischman has written for young readers. It is a lively autobiography, filled with humor, black and white photographs, and tips on writing.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Sid Fleishman's books abound in humorous situations and comic characters choreographed with a magician's wand. The author's love and compassion for people and their foibles lifts is rich, picaresque novels to the top of our reading lists. This autobiography provides insight into his development as a writer and his enduring love of magic. It is not surprising that his first book, Mr. Mysterious and Company was about a traveling magician and his family. Now you'll meet Sid's real family and be treated to his early experiences as a performing magician, his career goal even as a child. This ability to amaze and entertain audiences transferred ideally into his career as a writer.
VOYA - Candace Deisley
Imagine that one of America's most popular humorists writing for children has written an autobiography! Imagine that this Newbery Award winner spent years as a magician! Say "Hello!" to The Abracadabra Kid! It gives warm insight into what made Fleischman become a writer. The reader shares memoirs of evenings on the stage as a vaudevillian and highlights of time in the Navy during the Second World War. There are reminiscences of his family from a variety of perspectives: as a child, then as father and grandfather. The reader is rewarded with an appreciation for the author's art, and spurred with the desire to read more of his works. The book concludes with concrete suggestions for aspiring writers which are never issued as dogma, but as the voice of experience. The photographs included in the book are treasures that make their subjects come to life. This is a very good book with a slightly slow start. It will please Fleischman's many fans who will be delighted to learn about how the author came to write. Photos. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 5 UpIn a chatty style, this Newbery-award winning author of over 30 children's books converses about his "three lives." As a child, Fleischman was introduced to the world of magic, and was so enthralled by it that he read every book about it that the San Diego Public Library had to offer. Later, he traveled the country, performing in town halls, vaudeville theaters, and clubs. When he couldn't make big paychecks appear, he wrote a book of magic tricks, Between Cocktails, which has been in print for 50 years. Then he went back to school to study writing and again utilized the public library's resources. After military service he worked as a screen writer. Had the Hollywood screen writers not gone on strike, children's literature may have been deprived of a great writer. During the strike he wrote Mr. Mysterious and Company (Little, 1962; o.p.), and was amazed by the enthusiastic response it got from young readers. Casual in tone, Fleischman's words sparkle with sly humor and clever phrasing: "In those days, I was no literary diamond in the roughI wasn't even a zircon." Each chapter is prefaced by choice excerpts from his fan mail. A professional magician to the end, Fleischman does not give away his signature magic tricks; nor does he leave his audience empty handed. Instead, he presents youngsters with his favorite writing tips. This book is the next best thing to having the author visit your school or library and will be a boon to all those assigned to read an autobiography.Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO
Kirkus Reviews
Subtitled "A Writer's Life," this is a lively self-portrait of the writer as a young magician turned conjurer of "literary magic tricks." The son of an "airy optimist with nimble skills" and a mother who was a "crackerjack penny-ante cardplayer," Fleischman grew up enterprising and obsessed with magic. In high school he parlayed "a certain knack for inventing tricks" into a slim volume of match tricks that became an enduring classic, then did a stint in vaudeville in a ten-dollar tux and a hitch in the wartime navy. There's a postwar tour of duty in China, and years as a newspaperman, pulp-fiction writer, and screenwriter before a happy marriage and three kids drew him to the realm of children's books. Fleischman offers a gold mine of interesting reflections of writing, and a vivid representation of a life lived adventurously and thoughtfully.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688158552
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Fateful Nickel

Dear Sid Fleischman, I have read Mr. Mysterious & Company. It's the second best book I ever read.

I am astonished, when I pause to think about it, to discover myself to be an author of humorous novels for children. Or an author at all. I had a childhood much like everyone else's. What went wrong?

Few kids aspire to be writers when they grow up. When we are young, authors are unseen, ghostly presences. They certainly didn't hang around my neighborhood in San Diego when I was growing up. I was in my early twenties before I saw a live author.

During the Second World War the U.S. Navy briefly stationed me in New York City. Late one afternoon I stepped into an elevator and there stood Carl Sandburg. I recognized him at once and promptly quick-froze. I wanted desperately to say something profound, such as "Hello, Mr. Sandburg," but I was unable to thaw out my voice. it was a hot, humid summer day, and I did notice that the great American poet and Lincoln biographer was perspiring. That was my first clue that authors were human, like the rest of us.

And alive. From time to time my publisher sends along a letter from a child inquiring how long Sid Fleischman has been dead. There seems to be a kind of childhood folklore that all authors are dead. Or ought to be.

The role modeling just isn't there.

I became a writer quite by accident. in school I was being properly formatted to become a productive member of society, but I decided to become a magician instead.

I was in the fifth grade. The Great Depression was a dismal year old. Even a child couldsense that something was wrong, for many of the downtown shops had fallen dark as tombs. Still, San Diego, with its vast blue harbor, was luckier than most cities. It was the nesting place for the U.S. Navy Eleventh Fleet, and mercifully sailors on shore liberty had a few bucks to spend.

By a stroke of luck, my father, who'd been a child tailor in "the old country," had a shop on Fifth Avenue catering to sailor's needs-uniforms, boatswains' whistles, and other naval impedimenta. He was managing to survive, hanging on by his tobacco-stained fingernails.

One autumn day the large vacant store next door was hung like a stage set with gaudy canvas signs. A ten-in-one sideshow troop had moved in. The numbers described the procession of bizarre and wonderful features you could witness for a single admission.

My father gave me a fateful nickel to tour this storefront extravaganza, and my life changed forever. I was allowed past the velvet curtain. There, under the blazing lights, the first performer was about to drive a gleaming six-inch spike up his nose. I watched without the slightest inclination to go home and do likewise. What I envied about the spike man were the dove gray spats he wore tightly buckled over his shoes. They struck me as worldly and theatrical.

I quickly learned that everyone in the ten-in-one doubled or tripled as acts. The man with the spats, whose polka dot blue bow tic kept bobbing above a restless Adam's apple, became our guide through the wonders in the room. He introduced a pretty young woman named Wanda, who could throw her voice into a scuffed suitcase and did a vent act with a redheaded dummy. She reappeared after the fat lady, this time climbing into a packing case. The man with the spats ran swords through the box, yet moments later indestructible Wanda hopped back into view without a scratch.

The two pinhead freaks disturbed me, with their puzzled, spider monkey faces, and I was glad to move on around the room. By time Wanda reappeared a last time, I was smitten. Not only was she enchanting, but Wanda was a show biz Renaissance woman, for now, slipping into a coat of fringed buckskin, she did a sharpshooting act. Decades later I was to draw on her in creating the character of the sharpshooting Arizona Girl in my novel Jim Ugly.

But there was one more act. The man with the spats rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to pluck a polished red billiard ball out of thin air. Presto! It vanished. Abracadabra! It reappeared. it turned white. It blushed red again. Voila! Suddenly there were four billiard balls between this amazing man's fingers.

I was stunned. All of this was happening right under my nose. And there was more. He flipped the deck into falling waterfalls of cards, spun them into fans, and thrust a sword through a shower of cards to impale the seven of diamonds selected a moment before.

I was dazzled. The moment he finished his act and ushered us gawkers back onto the sidewalk, I knew what I wanted to be. Someone else could be president of the United States.

I wanted to be a magician.

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