The Passing of Mr. Mysterious

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 26, 2010

For anyone younger than 55, Sid Fleischman is an icon, his books part of the canon of the finest in American children’s storytelling. His marvelous stories are notable for their immense child appeal and signature combination of high adventure, mischievous tall-tale-telling, and loads of humor — all written without a single unnecessary word. What’s not to love?!
Sid Fleischman’s very name conjures up magicians, pirates, ghosts, mysteries, journeys, bandits, kidnappings, treasures, horses, mistaken identity, long-lost relatives, sudden fortunes. I remember reading Mr. Mysterious & Company when I was around eight years old. I was immediately charmed; my father, like Mr. Fleischman and his traveling show maestro, was a magician by hobby, so I felt a special connection to the young apprentice. From then on, I eagerly read every new chapter book he wrote. I loved the vivid characters and towns and countrysides and rivers and situations he created. Kids were always on the move in his books, independent and resourceful even when they were lost or outnumbered. Rascals and scalawags abounded, but they were often more ridiculous than villainous, or at least got very satisfying just deserts. There was a lightness of spirit, a joi d’esprit, about his writing that is sometimes missing from adventure stories written today.
He was also a master of that most important of genres: the young chapter book, for ages 7-10 (including and especially boys). His books are ones that make me wish for a new approach to backlist promotion; they are a hit with all the kids who can find them, but, like many older series, without a new-book promotion budget, they can be overlooked or forgotten and drift out of print. That’s already happened to a couple of my very favorites (the last three book covers pictured below), and I’m hoping that there’s some magic in the power of an entire children’s book community all thinking about his amazing literary legacy that will breathe new life into all of his titles. There are so many in print, with a few more to come; I’d like to invite all booksellers, teachers, and librarians to make a special effort to hand Sid Fleischman titles to kids and ignite a whole new generation of fans. Let’s make April Sid Fleischman month!
His was a literature of pluck and sass and resilience; he made living itself seem like a grand adventure. What a fine gift to leave to children! Mr. Sid Fleischman, we salute you.
Two links of interest:
Lisa Yee posted this on her blog: A fond farewell to a lovely friend . . .  As many of you have probably already heard, Sid Fleischman has died. He was a great influence on my career. Here’s a tribute I wrote in his honor. The link also includes his obituary from the SCBWI website.
Finally, Garrison Keillor celebrated Sid Fleischman in his birthday portion of The Writer’s Almanac (scroll down; SF is the third birthday).
Those of you with memories to share, please feel free to share comments about this wonderful author who, by all accounts, was also a most magical friend.
Whipping Boy
Thirteenth Floor
Dream Stealer
Trouble Begins at 8
By the Great Horn Spoon
White Elephant
Giant Rat of Sumatra
Ghost in the Noonday Sun
Entertainer and the Dybbuk
Midnight Horse
Here Comes McBroom
McBroom Tells a Lie
McBroom Tells the Truth
McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm
Ghost on Saturday Night
Jim Ugly
Disappearing Act
Bo and Mzzz Mad
Bandit's Moon
Mr. Mysterious and Company
Jingo Django

12 thoughts on “The Passing of Mr. Mysterious

  1. Mandaladreamer

    Mr. Mysterious and Company was read aloud to us in grade school, and quickly became an all-time favorite of mine, although I didn’t own a copy until I found one at a library sale as an adult. I read it to my kids, they loved it, and we all became McBroom fans, as well. When Sid Fleischman came to visit our library in Wichita, KS I brought the kids along to meet him. I’m sure he was promoting a new book (not sure which) but I didn’t have money to buy a new one, so we brought our old copies of Mr. Mysterious and McBroom books so each child had one for him to sign. He was very gracious about signing those old used copies, and commented that my Mr. Mysterious was a first edition! He did mostly magic tricks in his presentation, and we really enjoyed it. I’m still collecting his books as funds permit, and I’m a big fan of those recent biographies. We’re very sorry he is gone.

  2. Terry Christner

    Sid Fleischman was a speaker at our children’s author symposium in Hutchinson, KS, in 1989. We were also able to have his son Paul Fleischman that year. Sid thought it was a coup for us to be the first to have these Newbery Award winners together. We were just happy to have both father and son in the same place — and Sid enjoyed having that extra time with Paul. Sid was very gracious during his visit. I was thrilled to get to meet this literary legend.

  3. shelftalker elizabeth

    In terms of introducing a new generation of children to Sid Fleischman’s wonderful books, I have to say that the cover of By The Great Horn Spoon has been a handselling thorn in my side for YEARS now, and I’d ****love**** to see a new cover for it that doesn’t send most kids running behind their mothers to get away from that hairy, burly chest. More gold rush, more kid, fewer shirtless adults…. The book is so fantastic!

  4. Tracy Barrett

    Sid was a lovely man and extremely generous to other writers, whether published or aspiring. He spoke frequently at conferences of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and refused an honorarium if he knew that funds were tight. He donated the honorarium he received after speaking at the SCBWI conference that I coordinated to an Afghani women’s organization.
    When my then-sixth-grade son interviewed Sid for a class project, Sid treated him with as much respect and gave as thoughtful answers as though he had been talking with the New York Times. He was genuinely interested in others and had a wonderful sense of humor and sense of self.

  5. Joni Sussman, Kar-ben Publishing

    I had the privilege to finally meet Mr. Fleischman just a year ago when he addressed the Assn. of Jewish Libraries Conference and he signed a copy of his book “The Entertainer and the Dybbuk” for me. What a wonderful writer and what a gift he brought to children everywhere.

  6. Carol Chittenden

    When my master teacher cousin Steve, of Lake Stevens, WA, came to visit the newly opened Eight Cousins in 1986, he looked over our small collection. In general, he approved. “But the real test,” he said with a wink, “is this: do you have any Sid Fleischman? If you want to call yourselves a children’s bookstore, you MUST have Sid Fleischman’s books.” If we had one, it was a surprise to me, as I’d missed a generation of children’s publishing at that point. So we added Fleischman pere’s books, and amused the entire family after dinner one evening with a reading of McBroom Tells the Truth. We’ve called ourselves a children’s bookstore ever since. For all that I love about his books, Mr. Fleischman’s greatest gift to us all, though, is his son Paul, whose work delights as much, in different ways, as those of his brilliant father.

  7. lin Oliver

    Sid Fleischman served on the board of the SCBWI since its inception. He was a true inspiration to several generations of writers, and also a dear, wonderful friend. He loved to write, more than any writer I know, and couldn’t wait to get to it every day. This is the passing of a great friend, a great mentor to so many, and a truly great writer.

  8. marjorie

    When I was a columnist for The Forward, I listed The Entertainer and the Dybbuk in a roundup of the best Jewish children’s books of 2007. I got a lovely email from Mr. Fleischman — so funny, so self-deprecating, and so very sweet about my own writing. He said his father had subscribed to the Forward until the end of his life and would have been thrilled to see his son’s name in its pages. What a mensch.

  9. Maggi (Mama Librarian)

    I spent last summer catching up on Sid Fleischman I’d missed up until now, and replaced all my old and ugly copies with new, appealing paperbacks. They haven’t moved as well as I’d like, but I definitely foresee a Sid comeback. Thank you for the wonderful cover collage.

  10. Tim Tocher

    My hope is that someone will write a biography of Sid’s life as a writer, magician, and mentor to many that will share shelf space with his great books on Houdini and Twain. I’m looking forward to the Charlie Chaplin volume.

  11. Michelle Parker-Rock

    Sid Fleischman was an extraordinary person and a consummate writer. He was also a colleague and a friend. I feel so honored to have known him and to have worked with him. When I asked him what advice he would give young aspiring writers he said, “…you have to have persistence and confidence in yourself. Writing has to be practiced. Those are the real secrets…practice and persistence.” Sid lived ninety years and a day, and his remarkable career is a testimony to the ‘two Ps’ he talked about. I will miss Sid, but there is comfort in knowing that his books, his wisdom, and his delightful sense of humor will live on for many generations to enjoy and celebrate. Thanks, Sid, for the stories and the magic….and especially for being you.
    Michelle Parker-Rock
    Author of Sid Fleischman: An Author Kids Love (Enslow Publishers, Inc. 2009)


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