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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Honoring Sid Fleischman

I was saddened today to hear of the passing of Sid Fleishman. Sid was a gifted writer and his contributions to children's literature will continue to enlighten generations of children. More importantly, Sid was a kind and generous man. I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Sid. To honor him, I am re-posting the interview with a heavy heart. Sid, may your memory be a blessing.

Last week at the Jewish Literature for Children conference in Los Angeles, I had the honor of sitting with Newbury author Sid Fleischman. I have read and admired Sid's work for many years, but never had the opportunity to meet him in person. Sid was charming, kind, and gracious enough to blog chat with me about his newest book, THE ENTERTAINER AND THE DYBBUK(Greenwillow), which won a Sydney Taylor Book Award for older readers. Both children and adults should read THE ENTERTAINER AND THE DYBBUK, a tribute to the children of the Holocaust. The story brings to life an important part history through the character of Avrom the dybbuk, who takes over the life of Great Freddie, a ventriloquist. The relationship that develops between the two characters is warm, touching, and surprisingly humorous. I'm thrilled to interview Sid about his latest work.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is your first book about the Holocaust. What was the inspiration for the book?

I think every Jewish novelist wants to deal with this most dramatic and disturbing event in our lives. But what can you say? Through the years my thoughts have returned again and again to the nightmare and in particular to the murder, beyond belief, of the 1 1/2 million Jewish children. It was only after I began thinking of a dybbuk as the illuminating character in a novel that I found a fresh way of dealing with the Holocaust.

Do you have experience as a ventriloquist?

None as a performer, though many of my magician friends do vent acts. It is, after all, a bit of magic to throw the voice. Still, when I was nine or ten, I saw an adv in a Johnson Smith catalogue of novelties (magic tricks, joke books, stage beards and makeup, etc.) offering Ventrillo, a device that allowed you to throw your voice into a trunk, and so forth. I believe the price was ten cents. Anyway, I sent for one and was disappointed to receive a rubber warbling device you put on your tongue -- the same device sold to make bird calls. My career as a ventriloquist or bird caller ended on the spot. But in writing the book, I talked over technical problems with friends who were pros.

The concept of a dybbuk might be unfamiliar to kids. How have readers
responded to this aspect of the story?

Yes, even among Jews, I have found only spotty familiarity. But they respond immediately and with fascination when the dybbuk is explained. Kids, especially, to discover there is a well-defined Jewish ghost lurking about. From mail I have received so far, kids especially are enchanted with Avrom, the dybbuk in the novel, and particularly the ending when he tricks the villain into confessing.

Of all the books you have written, do you have a favorite?

Almost always the last book I have written, out of sheer relief to have gotten the story on paper. I'd have to say, the novel I find myself thinking about the most these days is The Entertainer and the Dybbuk. At other times the book that has pleased me the most is By the Great Horn Spoon! and more recently, ESCAPE! The Story of the Great Houdini. Impossible to pick an absolute favorite.

Can we expect another book soon?

Yes. THE TROUBLE BEGINS AT 8, a biography of Mark Twain, due out in May.Due in 2009,THE DREAM STEALER. I've been busy.

Sid, we look forward to seeing you new books on the shelves. Thank you for all your contributions to children's literature. I know you will continue to inspire readers, writers, and librarians for years to come!

To learn more about Sid please visit his web site at

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Blogger Terry P. said...

Thanks for getting this interview, Barbara. He IS such a dear man and fabulous writer. I can't wait to read his new book.

February 27, 2008 at 8:18 AM  

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