The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life Characters
by Sid Fleischman

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Fleischman's interest in performing magic tricks was the major focus of his early years. He became adept in handling cards and other standard props. He began to learn that human beings enjoy being deceived during these performances, and that they are very susceptible in many ways. This susceptibility would be proven when, while publishing a weekly newspaper, he and his friend thought they were perpetrating a harmless hoax by reporting the discovery of a twenty-seven-inch extraterrestrial man. The story was taken for absolute truth by many readers and received nationwide publicity.

The primary theme of The Abracadabra Kid is the process by which a writer is formed. Fleischman wants to acquire with words a skill comparable to that which he had developed in his magic.

An autobiography focuses on the character of its author. Fleischman shows how he became an astute observer of the world around him. He listens intently to speech patterns, to the expressions of the people in Missouri and Nebraska, for example, in contrast to the voices he hears in California. He learns at first hand how Americans in many parts of the country talk. A very amiable person, he is fond of the people he meets, especially children and young adults.

Fleischman gives much credit to his teachers, the magicians who helped him master sleight-of-hand techniques and the ones who impressed him during his school years from grade school to college. Harry Snyder, whose troop performed at the first magic show Fleischman had seen, became a friend and a mentor, as did Professor Fait, the chief performer at the San Diego Magicians Club. Harry Jones, a high school English teacher, introduced Fleischman to Shakespeare in a class that had the students playing roles in The Taming of the Shrew. Dr. Adams at San Diego State College helped Fleischman develop a sensitivity to nuance and the pleasures of the right word. "He taught me to read all over again." William Brunner, whose short story course he took after returning to San Diego State during the postwar years, taught him to realize that only through persistent practice could he master the craft of writing. While this constant practice is going on, Brunner remarked, "There's nothing wasted but the paper."