Sunday, March 28, 2010

Children Literature Loses A Great Writer

As a child, I didn't like to read very much. It was a difficult task and frankly, I'd rather have my teeth pulled out one by one than read a book. (Funny, I became a librarian eh?) One of the books that turned me onto reading was The Ghost of Saturday Night. This was an amazing feat for two reasons. One as I mentioned before, I hated reading and two I hated ghost stories. So what made me pick up this book? My third grade teacher. For that I will be forever grateful because I discovered a wonderful storyteller in Sid Fleishman. As a matter of fact, this book is one of the few that I saved and it still sits on my bookshelf.

Fleishman introduced his readers quirky, off-beat characters who would get into the minds of the reader, challenging them to read behind the lines to find the true story behind the story. The Ghost of Saturday Night was a story not about ghost, but more about how things are not always as they appear. Sometimes it is just fog that clouds the eyes from seeing what is really in front of them. This taught a little third grader that readers should not judge a book by it's title. Sometimes a little investigation, also known as reading, is in order.

Another lesson learned from reading this book was that fiction is not only about the art of storytelling, but it also can give the reader an informal eduction. For example, Fleishman introduced me to the word "moonshine". Mind you, at the tender age of 8, that word meant that the moon was shining. It only made sense since sunshine refers to the sun shining. Right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong. When that word appeared in sentences and it didn't make sense that the person was talking about the moon, it did cause some confusion. I just plugged along hoping that I would understand the context eventually. I didn't think to look up the word because I thought it was another reading "trick" that the slow reader like me would find hard to understand. Thank goodness my third grade teacher set me straight! As part of the requirement that I read this book, I also had to sit with my teacher to discuss the story with her on a one on one basis. The topic of moonshine came up and it became apparent that I had no clue what that word meant. I remember the conversation well. Moonshine, she explained was homemade whiskey. The light bulb went on in my head, and I blurted out "Just like my dad makes homemade wine!" The connection was made and I learned a valuable lesson. To look up the word if you don't understand the meaning is not a sign of a slow reader. It is actually a step towards becoming smarter.

Fleishman's work remained original and entertaining throughout the years. His final book, "The Entertainer and The Dybbuk" published last year, was a tale rich with Fleishman's twist on irony, unusual characters and the realities of life that sometimes adults would like to forget. It was his first story about the horrors of the Holocaust. It was, in my humble opinion, one of his finest work. The world of children's literature has lost a great storyteller, but fortunately for future young readers, his legacy will live on in the pages of his books. For old time sakes, a visit with Opie and Aunt Etta seems to be the right thing to do right now.
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