The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life

The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life

by Sid Fleischman

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Overview

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. Voilá! 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688158552
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/01/1998
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About 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.

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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