Paul Fleischman (1952-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1952, in Monterey, CA; Education: Attended University of California, Berkeley, 1970-72; University of New Mexico, B.A., 1977.
Author. Worked variously as a carpenter, bagel baker, bookstore clerk, library aide, and proofreader.
Authors Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Silver Medal, Commonwealth Club of California, Golden Kite Honor Book designation, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and outstanding book designation, New York Times, all 1980, all for The Half-a-Moon Inn; Newbery Honor Book, American Library Association (ALA), 1983, for Graven Images: Three Stories; Golden Kite Honor Book designation, and Parents' Choice Award, Parents' Choice Foundation, both 1983, both for Path of the Pale Horse; Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book designation, ALA Best Books for Young Adults nomination, both 1988, and Newbery Medal, 1989, all for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices; Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book designation, 1990, and ALA Notable Book designation, 1991, both for Saturnalia; Golden Kite Honor Book designation, 1992, for The Borning Room; Scott O'Dell Award, and Silver Medal, Commonwealth Club of California, both 1994, both for Bull Run; Jane Addams Children's Book Awards honor designation, and Golden Kite Honor Book designation, both 1998, both for Seedfolks; Golden Kite Honor Book designation, 1999, for Whirligig; PEN West Literary Award, 2000, and California Young Reader's Medal, 2002, both for Weslandia; National Book Award finalist, 2003, for Breakout; Leo Politi Golden Author Award, 2005.
The Birthday Tree, illustrated by Marcia Sewall, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
The Half-a-Moon Inn, illustrated by Kathy Jacobi, Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
Graven Images: Three Stories, illustrated by Andrew Glass, Harper (New York, NY), 1982, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
The Animal Hedge (picture book), illustrated by Lydia Dabcovich, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
Path of the Pale Horse, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
Phoebe Danger, Detective, in the Case of the Two-Minute Cough, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1983.
Finzel the Farsighted, illustrated by Marcia Sewall, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983.
Coming-and-Going Men: Four Tales, illustrated by Randy Gaul, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
I Am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices, illustrated by Ken Nutt, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
Rear-View Mirrors, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
Rondo in C, illustrated by Janet Wentworth, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, illustrated by Eric Beddows, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.
Saturnalia, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
Shadow Play (picture book), illustrated by Eric Beddows, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
The Borning Room, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Time Train, illustrated by Claire Ewart, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Townsend's Warbler (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Bull Run, woodcuts by David Frampton, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Copier Creations, illustrated by David Cain, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
A Fate Totally Worse than Death, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.
Dateline: Troy, illustrated by Gwen Frankfeldt and Glenn Morrow, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
Seedfolks, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Whirligig, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Weslandia, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
Mind's Eye, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.
Lost!: A Story in String, illustrated by C. B. Mordan, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices, illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
(Editor) Cannibal in the Mirror, photographs by John Whalen, Twenty-first-Century Books (Brookfield, CT), 2000.
Seek, Cricket Books (Chicago, IL), 2001.
Breakout, Cricket Books (Chicago, IL), 2003.
Sidewalk Circus, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Zap (play; produced in New York, NY, 2004), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Contributor to various journals and magazines.
Paul Fleischman is a Newbery Award-winning author of books for both children and young adults. He blends musical language with quirky looks at the world as viewed through the lens of human and natural history. "I'm a maker at heart," Fleischman declared in an essay for School Library Journal. By that, Fleischman meant that he creates stories out of the most unlikely found objects: forgotten bits of history, the detritus of bookstores and scrapbooks. Comparing writing to the creation of found sculptures, Fleischman explained the making of his books: "I collect materials, relying heavily on chance. I sort and discard. I envision possible shapes the book might take.… A sculpture grows upward; paragraphs grow down."
Fleischman's subject-matter has ranged from the insect world to a bloody U.S. Civil War battle, the limitations of medicine, a world turned upside-down, or a class trip that is transformed into a time-travel expedition. His works, which include novels, picture books, poems, and short stories, "are written with consummate skill," noted Cooki Slone in Children's Books and Their Creators, "and his stylistic range is as varied as is his choice of format." With his first book, The Birthday Tree, in which a young boy is connected to the tree planted at his birth, Fleischman's talent was recognized, and with each new book he has proven his ability to write supernatural mysteries as well as paeans to nature, consistently paying close attention to the sound of words and the shape of language.
Born in Monterey, California, in 1952, Fleischman grew up in Santa Monica, the son of well-known children's author Sid Fleischman. "Growing up hearing the wonderful works of my father … read aloud as they rolled out of the typewriter, I was exposed to books," Fleischman recalled in School Library Journal, "but was not a reader and certainly had no plans to be a writer." Instead of holing up in libraries as a youth, Fleischman and his sisters spent time on their bicycles exploring the streets and alleyways of their beach town. These explorations soon became foraging expeditions, as the children gathered other people's castaways from trash cans. However, while growing up in a writer's household the young Fleischman absorbed the elements of story without knowing it. In 1977, when he was about to graduate from college and was casting around for a suitable occupation, writing presented itself to him as a real possibility because he had witnessed his father's success as an author.
Fleischman's first book, The Birthday Tree, showed that he had potential as an author, and from that first book he has branched out into a wide range of themes and styles. Early young adult-books include the Edgar Allan Poe-and Nathaniel Hawthorne-inspired Graven Images and The Half-a-Moon Inn, the former a Newbery honor book. Fleischman blends his love of research and his musical approach to language into these works. "I write only a page or so a day," he explained in his 1989 Newbery acceptance speech, as published in Horn Book. "After several books it dawned on me that this was because I was writing prose that scanned, something that makes for slow progress." His "scanned prose," or verse-like writing with rhythm, meter, and occasional internal rhyme, is as close as Fleischman feels he can get to composing music, one of the loves of his life. "All my prose is written in 4/4 time," Fleischman explained.
The author's poet-like concerns for the rhythm of language is apparent in books such as Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, in which Fleischman presents fourteen poems that celebrate the insect world, and Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices. The poems in Joyful Noise are onomatopoeic, their texts echoing the sounds made by the insects themselves, and are intended to be read aloud. Mary M. Burns, reviewing the poetry collection for Horn Book, called Joyful Noise a "marvelous, lyrical evocation of the insect world" and concluded that "Each selection is a gem, polished to perfection. If Paul Fleischman never wrote another book, his reputation would remain secure with this one." The Newbery committee agreed with Burns and numerous other reviewers, awarding Fleischman the 1989 Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise. Interestingly, the author's father, Sid Fleischman, had received that same award just two years previously. In Big Talk, which Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg dubbed "perfect for classroom theatre," a color-coded text helps four readers collaborate on reciting the three poetic narratives: "The Quiet Evenings Here," "Seventh-Grade Soap Opera," and "Ghost's Grace." "The likely cacophony will bring giggles as readers work on getting the hang of all this big talk," quipped Margaret Bush in her review of the book for School Library Journal.
In addition to his passion for music, Fleischman is also fascinated by the past. Much of this he credits to his father's own love for research and history; he also noted in School Library Journal the serendipity that led him on a cross-country bicycle trip and to live in a 200-year-old house in the New Hampshire woods. It was a time of revelation for Fleischman, long before he thought of becoming a writer. He learned of seasons, of the names for birds and plants, and felt—in the absence of electricity—as if he were living two centuries earlier. Recalling his long list of novels, short stories, poems, and nonfiction books in School Library Journal, Fleischman declared that "None of those book would have been written had I not lived in that house."
Fleischman's abiding interest in the past has led him to create an impressive group of historical novels and nonfiction, ranging throughout his earliest fiction and continuing through such novels as Saturnalia, The Borning Room, and Bull Run, as well as through the nonfiction works Townsend's Warbler and Dateline: Troy. Focusing on the white man's treatment of both servants and Native Americans, Saturnalia is set in Boston in 1681 and plays with the idea of a world turned upside down, as during the Roman festival Saturnalia. The book focuses on a young Narragansett Indian boy in search of his twin brother as well as his heritage, both of which he lost six years earlier when his village was attacked by whites. "The writing is lyrical with somber tones, bright and lively notes, and quiet, thoughtful stretches," commented Amy Kellman in School Library Journal, adding that Saturnalia is "a very special book for a special audience." Booklist reviewer Denise M. Wilms concluded that "this absorbing story exemplifies Fleischman's graceful, finely honed use of the English language," while Raymond E. Houser noted in Voice of Youth Advocates that the novel "will challenge the most mature reader with its vocabulary and symbolic approach."
Fleischman deals in first-person narrative in The Borning Room, a novel that relates the life story of Georgina Lott. Georgina tells her story to a portrait painter called in to do her picture before she dies, and all of the action takes place in the borning room in which she was brought into the world. Fleischman weaves larger history, such as the U.S. Civil War and the underground railroad, as well as domestic history, into his fictional tapestry. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman observed that "Rebirth comes through connection and loving memory and through art. And it comes through stories, like this one." Zena Sutherland concluded in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that The Borning Room is "smoothly knit" and a "moving family chronicle."
With Bull Run, Fleischman highlights that well-known civil war battle, as seen through the eyes of sixteen different men and women. Samantha Hunt, writing in the Voice of Youth Advocates, described the novel as a "remarkable series of vignettes," comparing Fleischman's characterization to that employed by twentieth-century writer Edgar Lee Masters in his Spoon River Anthology. "Literally, this work stands alone in juvenile and young adult fiction," Hunt remarked, noting that Bull Run does for juvenile prose what Fleischman's Joyful Noise accomplished for juvenile poetry. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that, "like a Shaker cabinetmaker, Fleischman creates stories of deceptively simple design … that resonate with grace and beauty," and concluded that Bull Run "is a tour de force that should not be missed." Carolyn Phelan concluded in Booklist that by "abandoning the conventions of narrative fiction, Fleischman tells a vivid, many-sided story in this original and moving book."
Fleischman also serves up nonfiction in his Townsend's Warbler. This book tells the story of two nineteenth-century naturalists, John Townsend and Thomas Nuttall, who made their way across the country in search of new plants and animals, including the tiny bird featured in the book's title. Lois Ringquist noted in Five Owls that "Fleischman brings to life the adventure" that lies behind the tiny stuffed bird in the natural history display. In Dateline: Troy the author employs a current-newspaper format to bring to life the events surrounding the Trojan War, juxtaposing the war as related by Homer against modern-day headlines. Shirley Wilton, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "What comes across in Fleischman's fine retelling is the universality of the human qualities of greed, treachery, and violence." Betsy Hearne concluded in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that Dateline: Troy is a "thought-provoking book, classically austere in design, with a partnership of text and illustration unusual" in young adult works.
In addition to exploring the past, Fleischman also engages readers with fiction dealing with modern-day themes and problems. In titles such as A Fate Totally Worse than Death, Seedfolks, Whirligig, Weslandia, and Breakout he demonstrates the range of styles and themes that have made him such a versatile writer. Parodying teen-horror novels, Fleischman serves up a "funny, mocking, and … surefire hit" with A Fate Totally Worse than Death, according to Julie Cummins in School Library Journal. "Lavishly dosed with comic hyperbole, his plot is good for some chuckles—and many groans," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. In Seedfolks the author once again employs his multi-faceted narrative voice, "arraying voices like threads on a loom," according to a contributor to Publishers Weekly, noting that the novel weaves "a seamless tale of the advent of a garden in urban Cleveland and how it unites a community." Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing the same title for Booklist, concluded that the "characters' vitality and the sharply delineated details of the neighborhood makes [Seedfolks] … not merely an exercise in crafts-manship or morality, but an engaging, entertaining novel as well."
Whirligig examines the aftermath of a teen traffic accident. Coming home from a party intoxicated and despondent, Brent tries to commit suicide, but instead kills a stranger—a talented and lovely high-school senior. His atonement for the crime, as set by the dead girl's mother, is to erect four whirligigs with pictures resembling the victim at the four corners of America. Brent's subsequent journey takes him not only across the United States but into his own psyche as well. "The brilliant Fleischman has written a beautifully layered, marvelously constructed novel that spins and circles in numerous directions," commented Miriam Lang Budin in School Library Journal. Another book for older readers, Breakout focuses on seventeen-year-old Del Thigpen, whose impetuous decision to fake her death and escape from her current foster home is frustrated by a Los Angeles traffic jam. While stuck on the freeway, Del has time to reassess her situation, and Fleischman threads his novel with a parallel narrative that shows an older Del—now a performance artist calling herself Elena Franco—reflecting on the shift caused by these ruminations. A Publishers Weekly reviewer explained that the novel, which "explores the way art allows people to re-examine their lives," is structured to "allow … the real and imagined events to blend, supplementing and augmenting each other." While noting that Breakout "makes demands on its readers," Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper added that the "artful, insightful" novel is "very much worth the effort."
Toddlers and novice readers have also enjoyed Fleischman's work via the author's chapter books and picture books. Among the many titles he has created for younger readers are Shadow Play, Time Train, Weslandia, and The Animal Hedge. With these volume, as with his poetry and novels for older readers, Fleischman shows himself to be an inventive wordsmith and a spinner of original, often whimsical tales. As Catherine Price noted in the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, the author "is a master of his craft" whose "lyrical language and remarkable imagery enable him to create convincing characters and time periods. An added appeal of his work is that his protagonists often share young readers' powerful emotional needs, and therefore help them make discoveries about themselves." In Weslandia a young outsider grows a garden of strange plants and from it creates a miniature world in his backyard, complete with its own language. In The Animal Hedge a farmer who was forced to sell his beloved farm, together with his three sons, cultivate the shrubbery in their new yard, clipping and pruning the images of the things they love most—the farmer shapes his beloved livestock, the sons' images reflect their future dreams. The story, an allegory that reminds readers that "following the dictates of one's heart is the surest path to personal fulfillment," according to Miriam Lang Budin in School Library Journal, is told in traditional folk fashion, creating what a Publishers Weekly contributor praised as an "inspiring" and "heartwarming story with quiet power."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995, p. 245.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 20, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990, pp. 63-70.
Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, edited by Sally Holmes Holtze, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1983, pp. 114-116.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, edited by Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 285-286.
Booklist, May 1, 1990, Denise M. Wilms, review of Saturnalia, p. 1702; October 1, 1990, p. 338; September 1, 1991, pp. 61-62; October 1, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of The Borning Room, p. 328; January 15, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of Bull Run, p. 898; July, 1993, p. 1960; October 15, 1995, p. 397; May 15, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Seedfolks, p. 1573; April, 1998, p. 1324; April 15, 2000, Randy Meyer, review of Cannibal in the Mirror, p. 1536; June 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices, p. 1883; July, 2000, Michael Cart, review of Lost!: A Story in String, p. 2038; October 15, 2002, Anna Rich, review of Seek, p. 438; December 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Break-out, p. 746.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1991, p. 117; September, 1991, Zena Sutherland, review of The Borning Room, pp. 9-10; November, 1991, p. 63; December, 1995, p. 126; March, 1996, Betsy Hearne, review of Dateline: Troy, p. 225; July-August, 1997, p. 393; June, 1998, p. 361.
Childhood Education, mid-summer, 2004, Sylvia Loh, review of Breakout, p. 273.
Children's Book Awards Annual, 1998, p. 62.
Five Owls, September-October, 1994, Lois Ringquist, review of Townsend's Warbler, p. 7.
Horn Book, May-June, 1988, Mary M. Burns, review of Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, pp. 366-367; July-August, 1989, Paul Fleischman, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," pp. 442-451; May-June, 1990, pp. 337-338; January-February, 1991, pp. 63-64; July-August, 1996, p. 581; May-June, 1997, p. 320; March-April, 1999, pp. 187-188; May-June, 2004, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Sidewalk Circus, p. 311.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1979, review of The Birthday Tree, p. 573; August 15, 1990, pp. 1167-68; July 15, 1991, p. 938; June 1, 1993, p. 720; September 15, 1995, p. 1349; May 1, 1997, p. 720; July 1, 1999, p.1053.
Kliatt, January, 2002, Sally M. Tibbetts, review of Joyful Noise, p. 51; November, 2002, Miles Klein, review of Seek, p. 49; May, 2003, Carol Reich, review of Seek-folks, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1991, p. 81; March 29, 1991, p. 94; July 12, 1991, p. 66; July 19, 1991, p. 57; January 11, 1993, review of Bull Run, p. 64; September 18, 1995, review of A Fate Totally Worse than Death, p. 133; April 17, 1997, review of Seedfolks, p. 93; April 12, 1999, p. 28; May 12, 1999, p. 78; July 12, 1999, pp. 95-96; July 28, 2003, review of Breakout, p. 96; September 8, 2003, review of The Animal Hedge, p. 76.
School Library Journal, May, 1990, Amy Kellman, review of Saturnalia, p. 122; May, 1991, Shirley Wilton, review of Dateline: Troy, p. 138; October, 1995, Julie Cummins, review of A Fate Totally Worse than Death, p. 152; April, 1998, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Whirligig, p. 131; March, 1999, Paul Fleischman, "The Accidental Artist," p. 105; June, 1999, p. 94; August, 1999, p. 155; April, 2000, Steven Engelfried, review of Cannibal in the Mirror, p. 147; June, 2000, Grace Oliff, review of Lost!, p. 112; Margaret Bush, review of Big Talk, p. 163; October, 2003, Miriam Lang Budin, review of The Animal Hedge, p. 119; July, 2004, Robin L. Gibson, review of Sidewalk Circus, p. 75.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1990, Raymond E. Houser, review of Saturnalia, p. 102; June, 1993, Samantha Hunt, review of Bull Run, p. 89; February, 1994, p. 393; December, 1996, pp. 285-86; June, 1998, pp. 121-122.
Paul Fleischman's Official Web site, http://www.paulfleischman.net/ (December 2, 2004).
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