Sid Fleischman was (and arguably still is) the funniest fiction writer…ever. I’m not alone in this opinion. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) created a Humor Award in his honor, and made him the first recipient. The Sid Fleischman Humor Award is an award for authors whose work exemplifies the excellence of writing in the genre of humor.
As SCBWI President Stephen Mooser said, “Sid the Magician may not be as famous as Sid the Writer. It’s one thing to make someone laugh. But his ability to do that in so many stories with such poignancy is nothing short of magic.“
So it’s no surprise that the funniest writer in fiction worked his magic with hilarious history too.
The Trouble Begins at 8 ~
A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West
Who better to tell the rambunctious tale of a young river boat pilot who gallops off to take on the wild, wild West than Sid Fleischman? The tale is all true, and told with a wit as sharp as Mark Twain himself.
The title itself signals the fun that’s to come…taken from the poster Mark Twain used to advertise his public talks: The doors open at seven, The Trouble to begin at 8 o’clock.
Fleischman takes the reins from there with hopping hilarity: “Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.”
You might think (as I did) that Mark Twain began writing as a young man, while piloting river boats on the Mississippi river. Afterall, that was the stage on which his two most famous novels were set: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But no. Those books wouldn’t come until much later. Twain’s writing career began with his adventures in the wild, wild west. Virginia City, Nevada to be exact, writing for a newspaper in a place where tumbleweeds were the biggest thing to blow through town.
The First in Fake News
It’s true. Mark Twain made his name writing Fake News. When there was no news, “Sam gave his bubbling imagination a stir and ladled out a wondrous hoax. He reported the discovery of a petrified man.”
Twain created the tale to stir up trouble with the competing newspaper in town, and tickle the funny bones of the readers. In a time before television and social media this was great entertainment, and an instant success! So much so, the hoax was picked up by newspapers across the country.
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was the tall tale that brought Twain national acclaim. The short story awarded him notoriety as a writer, but travel and lecture series would consume his time for years. It wasn’t until Twain married and settled in Connecticut that he’d write two of the most celebrated novels in fiction.
Sir Charlie ~
Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World
Charlie Chaplin embraced the pain of his youth, played with it, then used it to become famous for being funny. He instinctively knew that what makes you laugh the most, also makes you cry the most. Sid Fleischman tells the Little Tramp’s poignant tale, matching Chaplin’s humor with heartwarming empathy.
See him? That little tramp twitching a postage stamp of a mustache, politely lifting his bowler hat, and leaning on a bamboo cane with the confidence of a gentleman? A slapstick comedian, he blazed forth as the brightest movie star in the Hollywood heavens.
Everyone knew Charlie—Charlie Chaplin.
When he was five years old he was pulled onstage for the first time, and he didn’t step off again for almost three-quarters of a century. Escaping the London slums of his tragic childhood, he took Hollywood like a conquistador with a Cockney accent. With his gift for pantomime in films that had not yet acquired vocal cords, he was soon rubbing elbows with royalty and dining on gold plates in his own Beverly Hills mansion. He was the most famous man on earth—and he was regarded as the funniest.
Still is. . . . He comes to life in these pages. It’s an astonishing rags-to-riches saga of an irrepressible kid whose childhood was dealt from the bottom of the deck. [Synopsis]
In case you’ve never seen Charlie Chaplin in action…the following is a clip from his silent movie, A Dog’s Life.