The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life

by Sid Fleischman (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1996. Pp. 208. Photographs.)

Sid Fleischman’s autobiography is a lighthearted look back to a time when things seemed simpler. They probably were not simpler, but in retrospect it appears to have been. The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life is the chronicle of Fleischman’s rudimentary start as a child magician during the Great Depression and his progression to a popular and award winning writer of children’s stories. Well known for such tales as The Whipping Boy, The Ghost in the Noonday Sun and McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm, Fleischman’s storybook adolescence is a charming narrative about a boy who knew what he wanted and worked hard to attain his goal.

We accompany Fleischman with his friends Buddy and Mary as they embark on a 1936 summer tour of Civilian Conservation Corps camps in California to entertain the workers with their magical prowess. Later we ship out to the Pacific Ocean on the USS Albert T. Harris as Fleischman serves in the US Navy during World War II. He takes us through his post-war days as a reporter, finally surfacing as a writer of children’s tall tales.

The author sets aside a couple of chapters to discuss the craft of writing. Chapter 40 “Footsteps,” is largely devoted to writing tips that can be adapted by adults or children aspiring to create an engaging story.

“Dramatize important scenes; narrate the trivialities. I have seen a lot of this the other way around… Give weather reports. It helps the reality of a scene if foghorns are blowing or kites are in the sky on a windy afternoon or the day’s so hot wallpaper is peeling off the walls… When possible, give important characters an “entrance.” That’s why grand staircases were invented.”

These and other tips he gives are valuable for storytelling whether written or oral. Everyone loves to hear a good story and lots of us like to tell them.

The book is sprinkled with black and white photos from the Fleischman family archives. This device helps us feel better acquainted with his life and times.

The author uses one liners from letters he receives from readers and fans as the preamble for each chapter. These entries were intriguing and entertaining. Here are a few of my favorites.

“I’d like to be a writer, but my hand gets tired. Can you give me some advice?”

“I loved your book Jingo Django. Have you read it?”

“Please don’t come back to my school. I hate to write letters.”

As Art Linkletter might comment, “Kids say the darndest things!”

Fleischman’s life reads like a tall tale of it’s own. It is a delightful, easy to read book with plenty of details to pacify the reader’s interest and to inform. The Abracadabra Kid is marketed to youth but has meat for any aspiring adult writer or reader.

B. Bell

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