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The Chicago 90-Second Newbery Film Festival Screening Was a Dream of a Dream!

March 12, 2019

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

There’s no show like a hometown show! On Sunday, we put on a screening of the EIGHTH ANNUAL 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. It was the day after my birthday, and we followed up the triumphant show—well, triumphant except for one gigantic blunder on my part, which I’ll get to—with a birthday party at my place.

Once again I took the stage with the hilarious and talented Keir Graff (author of The Matchstick Castle and The Phantom Tower), and we did an opening skit in which THE HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL—that is, Newbery-winning kidlit superstars Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and Meindert Dejong—tried to shut down the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. This snowballed into a musical number, as per usual, this time sung to the tune of “One Day More” from Les Miserables.

Wait a second—kidlit superstar Meindert Dejong?! Sure, haven’t you heard of him? It’ll all make sense if you watch the opening skit here (and thanks to Amalia for playing the Sergeant-At-Arms of the High Newbery Council):

We also had as a special guest Mary Winn Heider, the author of the hilarious new middle-grade novel The Mortification of Fovea Munson. I read it out loud to my girls when it came out and they loved it. Mary Winn isn’t just an author, she’s a great actor too (indeed, a member of Chicaago’s famous Barrel of Monkeys troupe). Here Mary Winn shows up “late” for the film festival, slightly confused on its premise:

Okay, remember I mentioned I made a blunder at the film festival? It was a really bad one. Due to a mixup with video files, totally my fault, I nearly didn’t show at all this great movie of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes made by Norah, Jehan, Virginia, Sofia, and Clodagh of Beaubien Elementary. Luckily right as I was leaving the stage, somebody from Beaubien told me about my mistake, and I rushed back onstage to play it. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the video go full-screen, and so the experience was impaired. I’m really sorry for that. And all the more so because it’s such a great movie. Check it out:

As the judges on the 90-Second Newbery website said (full review here), “This was a tightly scripted, well-shot, full-of-personality adaptation. The green screen was used resourcefully and ingeniously throughout, with a great choice of a variety of backgrounds! The voiceover narration kept the story clear and on track. The script was well-written and so the scenes flowed in a cause-and-effect chain, making the story easy to understand even if one hadn’t read the book . . . And I loved that this movie had actual lizards in it, complete with scary music!”

Beaubien Elementary—students, teachers, families—I’m deeply sorry for the mixup. I hope this doesn’t put you off from participating in the 90-Second Newbery again next year. Beaubien actually submitted lots of great movies this year and you can see them all here.

Let’s check out some of the other movies featured at the screening. For instance, here’s Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Newbery Medal winner Tale of Despereaux, by the Leland Street Players (I happen to know a few of the actors in this movie):

Every year Ava Levine of Highland Park submits an amazing movie for the 90-Second Newbery. Last year it was Charlotte’s Web in the style of a Michael Bay action movie (here). The year before it was Frog and Toad Together in the style of “Seinfeld” (here and here). This year? An adaptation of Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins:

Read the judges’ full review here, in which they praise the movie as “unhinged and hilarious.” And do yourself a favor and subscribe to Ava’s YouTube channel here to see all her other projects!

You want another reliably brilliant 90-Second Newbery veteran? How about Corbin Stanchfield, whose adaptation of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Medal Winner, the boy-and-his-dog story Shiloh with the dog replaced by a bagel, is the stuff of 90-Second Newbery legend. He has done a lot of other great movies too, but never anything as elaborate and hilarious as this adaptation of Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book The Sign of the Beaver:

As the judges noted in part (full review here), “a brilliant, ambitious, bonkers idea to tell the story through ‘seven decades of popular music.’ A charismatic, versatile one-man performance from Corbin carries the entire three-minute movie (and at times Corbin even multiplies himself through the magic of camera trickery). Songs by the Beatles, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Nirvana (in unplugged mode), and more are cleverly rewritten to tell the plot of Sign of the Beaver, culminating in a deliriously fun, energetic rendition of Mark Ronson’s and Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk.’ And best of all, these aren’t karaoke versions of the songs: Corbin arranged, played, recorded, and mixed the music himself.” Check out more of Corbin’s stuff at Corbin Films.

You might remember last year’s Millions of Cats in the style of stop-motion polar bears. Here’s yet another stop-mnotion movie by those filmmakers, John and Meg Alznauer, of Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses:

As the judges said (full review here), “Incredible! Ingenious! . . . I loved, loved, loved this stop-motion animated version of Flora & Ulysses. The paper cut outs were beautifully drawn and impressively articulated, capable of so many movements . . . When the superheroic music swells and Ulysses begins flying, dodging and fluttering through the various plot elements as they stream across the screen, it’s truly inspiring and energizing!”

We also had some great first-time filmmakers for this year’s 90-Second Newbery. Here’s Lloyd Alexander’s 1966 Honor Book The Black Cauldron, by the Dugan Brothers from Chicago, done entirely in clay stop-motion:

As the judges said (full review here), this was “funny, enjoyable, and ambitious . . . The clay figures were impressively detailed (I particularly liked Fflewddur Fflam with his harp) and well-animated (some of my favorite moments are when the Eilonwy’s arrows hurtled through the air, or when Elidyr threw himself into the cauldron). The snarky voiceover narration gave it the just the right ironic tone . . . great work!”

Last year the young filmmakers at the Lozano branch of the Chicago Public Library did a fantastic movie of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet. This year they’re back with an adaptation of another 90s classic, Sharon Creech’s 1995 Medal Winner Walk Two Moons . . . in the style of an old-fashioned black-and-white noir mystery movie!

In their review, the judges said “the tone was beautifully set right at the start with the Dragnet theme song and voiceover and the blood-red title card. The black-and-white cinematography, crisp editing, and period-sounding soundtrack really gave it the feeling of an old-fashioned detective movie . . . I loved the unhinged performance of Mike Winterbottom!”

We got some inventive and impressive movies from Lincoln Hall Middle School. Here Jason Reynolds’ 2018 Honor Book is adapted with stop-motion Legos by Jonathan and Jad:

The judges said in their review, “A resourceful and at times ingenious retelling of the story through Lego stop-motion . . . Excellent voiceover performances throughout, keeping the various characters who are crowding into the elevator distinct . . . This was a well-shot, crisply edited, appropriately paced movie.”

Layla Ellis did this agreeably psychotic adaptation of Paul Fleischman’s 1989 Medal Winner Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. If you know the book, you know it’s all poems told from the point of view of insects. But what if there’s somebody who doesn’t want to listen to insects spout poetry all day?

As the judges said (full review here), “It was such an inspired, hilarious, unhinged idea for the poetry-reciting insects of Joyful Noise to be relentlessly hunted down and killed by a bug-hating maniac—swatted and splattered by the very book they are quoting! And it’s all the better because the actual poem recitations were well-done.”

We also had some amazing hand-drawn animation from Siena L, Yaretzy M, and Tatevik A. of Edgewood Middle School, with their evocative and thematic interpretation of Jerry Spinneli’s 1991 Medal Winner Maniac Magee:

As the judges said (full review here), “Beautiful animation, very fluid and evocative! I loved the stylish minimalism of these animated black-and-white drawings, telling the story with a series of abstract actions . . . Short and sweet, this movie gives the general idea and atmosphere of the story without getting bogged down in plot details. The music worked well too, changing to suit the action when necessary. This movie was artistic, resourceful, and impressive! Bravo!”

We featured two different local movies based on Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street. This first one is by Lincolnwood Public Library’s Moviemaking Program—headed up by the social media director of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, the indispensable Eti Berland:

As the judges said (full review here), “A colorful, exuberant, resourceful movie! I loved the many vibrant, well-drawn backdrops of cityscapes used throughout, pulling all the scenes together with a consistent and attractive visual style . . . The performances were expressive and authentic, the script lean, the cinematography and editing excellent. A great movie!”

We also got a similarly compelling movie of Last Stop on Market Street from Sophie, Luis, Estrella, Michael, Kayla, Adriana, Sophia, Tania, and Jada of the Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy:

As the judges said (full review here), “A creative retelling of the story, with great acting, cinematography, and editing! I like how some details were swapped out from the original story (a cello instead of a guitar—beautifully played, by the way!) . . . The performances were grounded and realistic and believable, and the tight editing kept everything moving quickly.”

Another great local movie was this version of Jean Fritz’s Honor Book Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Mahony’s 5th Grade class at Glen Grove Elementary School:

As the judges said, “A fast and resourceful retelling of a lesser-known Newbery Honor book! (I appreciate it when we get a book that hasn’t already had a million movies made of it) . . . Clever and entertaining!”

Maritza A., Jenna G., Genesis C., Madelyn C., Nelly S., Jailene G., and Emily O. of Ms. Pappas’ class from Gray Elementary School turned in this intriguing movie of Sharon Bell Mathis’s 1976 Honor Book The Hundred Penny Box:

As the judges said, ” A sensitive and entertaining retelling of a lesser-known but high-quality Newbery Honor book . . . well-crafted and true to the book!”

I was impressed by this adaptation of Russell Freedman’s 1988 Medal Winner Lincoln: A Photobiography by students from the Chicago Filmmakers Summer Camp, which ends with a climactic post-assassination brawl:

As the judges said in their review, “It was a great idea to give this 1800s-era story an appropriately olde-tymey feel by shooting it in black-and-white, with historical-documentary sounding music and no dialogue, making it feel like an early silent movie . . . Very resourcefully told throughout, with great costumes, green screen work, cinematography and editing, and fight choreography! Superb!”

Last but not least, check out Hazel’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Medal Winner The Graveyard Book:

In the words of the judges, “I loved the performances, especially Scarlett’s enthusiastic friendliness, Bod’s confusion and anxiety, and Jack’s maniacal murderousness, which worked particularly well in the scene where Jack confronts Bod with the knife, and glances at the camera in a saucy way . . . a fun, brisk sprint through the book!”

There were so many other great local movies that we received for this year’s film festival, but that’s all we were able to feature at the screening!

I have a lot of people to thank. Thanks to my co-host Keir Graff, special guest Mary Winn Heider, and young actor Amalia for their performances in the opening skit, as well as Sarah (who played Kate DiCamillo), Heather (my wife! who played Jacqueline Woodson), Chris (who played E.B. White) and Alice (who played Meindert Dejong).

Thank you also to the folks at the Harold Washington Library Center—Liz McChesney, Maria Peterson, Mary Beth Mulholland, and Alexandria Trimble—for helping to organize and put on this event. And thanks to Leland and Michael for doing a great job in the tech booth, handling lights and sound. And thanks to Evanston’s Booked bookstore for handling all the bookselling at the event.

And thanks most of all to the young filmmakers, and the parents and teachers and librarians who assisted them in making their movies! Feel inspired to make your own movie for the 90-Second Newbery? Submissions for next year are due in January 2020, but really you can turn them in anytime . . . and actually, I prefer that! You can find complete information at the 90-Second Newbery website.

I will leave you with the final montage we showed at the end of the screening:

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

Minneapolis! Thanks for the amazing 90-Second Newbery screening!

March 1, 2019

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

The 2019 season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival rolls on! Last Saturday we screened to a packed house at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis. I always love bringing the film festival to Minneapolis—I’ve found the crowds are some of the best and most responsive.

Special thanks to my co-host, New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline West (The Collectors, the Books of Elsewhere series). She was recommended to me by last year’s host, Pete Hautman. Although I missed Pete, Jacqueline knocked it out of the park! It turns out she was a voice major in college, and has done a lot of musical theater, so she was a perfect stage partner for the opening skit, in which the HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL (that is, Newbery winners Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and Meindert Dejong) attempt to shut down the film festival. This turns into some onstage hijinks, culminating in a transformed version of “One Day More” from Les Miserables. Check out Jacqueline’s exquisite voice! And her impeccable comic timing!

The great thing about the Minneapolis screening is that the filmmakers and their friends and families always come out in full force. We took a picture with some of them onstage at the end of the show:

Let’s look at some of the videos we featured at the screening! Stephanie, David, and Aiden of Boeckman Middle School created this witty and ingenious animated movie of Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses:

In the full review on the 90-Second Newbery website, the judges say “This was some amazing animation! I loved how the movie’s minimal, deadpan style sometimes broke into crazy flights of fancy . . . It was a clever and fun idea to replace the squirrel of the book with a small unicorn. I liked the way Flora is telling her story directly to the viewer while the crazy visuals flash past and her expressions change to suit the mood and emotion of the story.”

Also from Boeckman Middle School was this adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal Winner The Crossover by Leo, Brayden, and Lacie . . . in the form of an energetic, amazing rap:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website, “With inspiring enthusiasm and commitment, this movie left it all on the court . . . I was impressed at how the movie earnestly and honestly goes for the true emotion . . . great writing, delivery, and occasional visuals. This movie was a triumph!” Full review here.

Jayden and friends did this standout version of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes:

You can read the judges’ full review here, in which they say this movie “did a great job telling the entire story in a coherent, easy-to-follow way, which is not easy to do. And the movie does it with lots of style! Great use of green screen throughout, making the locations vivid and the scenes believable . . . I appreciated the attention to detail, like the orange prisoners’ outfits, the judge’s wig and robes, and especially comically long beard on the old man at the end . . . a clear, entertaining, stylish retelling of the story!”

There is another great movie of Holes, done by Melrose Elementary School. The twist? Instead of being set in the barren desert, it’s set in a snowy tundra. More appropriate for Minnesota, right? Check it out here.

If you watched the video of our opening skit above, you were probably impressed by the acting and comedic timing of the kid who played the “Sergeant-at-arms of the High Supreme Newbery Council.” That kid was Chris Conway, and he and his friends Anthony and Will made this funny and meta version of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet:

You can read the full review here, in which the judges say (in part), “I loved the irreverent, self-aware attitude of this movie! The snarky dialogue from Brian at the beginning set the tone perfectly . . . It was a fun change to the original book to make the pilot seem to survive the crash, and for Brian to seriously consider cannibalism . . . I like how the movie broke into reality by having the filmmaker’s father obliviously wander into the movie.”

We screened many other movies made right in Minnesota—too many to feature all in one post! I recommend you check them all out:

Hatchet by Ben W., Talesh T., and Daniel S.

Call it Courage by Louisa, Emily, Aryanna, Graham, and Alexander

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Genet, Yamato, and Anwar

Penny from Heaven by Frankie, JoJo, Lucy and Mitali

The Crossover by Legend and Benny

Hello, Universe by Peter, Quinn, Cooper, and Rahul

Bridge to Terabithia by Kelsi, Abi, and Ella

Thanks so much, Minnesota, for some great videos and a great screening! I’m already looking forward to next year! Thanks especially to Leah Larson, Jennifer Nelson, and Jen Verbrugee of the Minnesota Department of Education for putting this whole thing together every year. Thanks again to Chris Conway for helping out in the opening skit. Thanks again to Jacqueline West for co-hosting. Thanks to Angela Whited and everyone at the Red Balloon Bookshop for selling books at the event. And thanks to Dan and Veronica who put me up for the weekend!

I don’t want to forget! Here’s a picture of me and some students at Da Vinci Academy of Arts & Science in Ham Lake, Minnesota, where I came to speak about The Order of Odd-Fish the Friday before the show:

And let’s finish off this post with the closing montage of the movies from last Saturday’s screening. See you next year!

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

The 90-Second Newbery screenings in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah were a blast!

February 19, 2019

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

Last year (2018) I was blown away by the warm welcome we got when we introduced the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival to Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah. I was delighted to return to Utah this year too, to honor some great local kid-made movies!

Last Friday and Saturday I was joined at the 2019 Utah screenings by longtime co-host and author Keir Graff (The Phantom Tower, The Matchstick Castle). Just like last year, even a big snowstorm didn’t stop lots of folks from attending the shows!

Below, check out the video of Keir and I doing the opening skit and song-and-dance at the Treehouse Museum in Ogden. The premise? The 90-Second Newbery has offended the honor of the HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL, composed of Newbery all-stars Kate Dicamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and . . . Meindert Dejong? Wait, you don’t know who Meindert Dejong is? The man who has won more Newberys than anyone? Then this skit is for you, especially if you like goofy floating heads, swordplay, and Les Miserables:

Thanks to Natalie for co-starring with us! I like this recording because, since the Treehouse Museum’s theater is a more intimate venue, we were able to get better audio than at most other shows. Indeed, the Treehouse Museum is an amazing place! It’s especially great for making 90-Second Newbery movies, because of all the kid-friendly exhibits and environments they have (a medieval castle, a farm, a diner, a fire station, a Presidential Oval Office, rooms from Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Kenya . . . and so much more!) AND they have tons of play costumes there too.

So Wes Whitby and Hannah Callaway of the Treehouse Museum rounded up OVER A HUNDRED CHILDREN and made this great adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s 1966 Honor Book The Black Cauldron. It was shot in the style of a silent movie, and it retells this medieval fantasy in the style of an Old West adventure! Prince Gwydion becomes Sherriff Gwydion, the evil Huntsmen of Annuvin become a gang of low-down bandits, and the Black Cauldron itself is transformed into a legendary black train, the “fastest in the west”!

As the reviewers on the 90-Second Newbery said, “This is fantastic! . . . The sped-up footage, frenetic piano music, and old-timey-looking film filter make this really seem like a silent movies from bygone days . . . This movie worked because of the expressive, over-the-top silent-film acting of all the various characters.” You can read the full review here.

The next movie, also from Ogden, is one of the most distinctive and impressive 90-Second Newbery movies I’ve seen. It’s by Tanner Goethals, and it’s an adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1987 Medal Winner The Whipping Boy, done entirely in computer animation. But no ordinary animation! This was made using Microsoft 3D Movie Maker (here’s a strangely creepy TV commercial for it), which is software from waaaaaaaay back in, like, the Clinton administration. For those of you scoring along at home, that means this 1980s book has been redone with 1990s graphics for a film festival in the 2000s. I LOVE THIS. THIS IS WHAT THE 90-SECOND NEWBERY IS ABOUT, PEOPLE!

As the judges said, “This movie was amazing! I’ve never had this animation style used in a 90-Second Newbery before, and I loved it . . . elaborately animated, impressively detailed, and the 90s-obsolete style was fresh and compelling! The script was witty and tight and had an appropriately sarcastic tone (‘And they will never do bad stuff again’), zipping through the story at breakneck speed . . . My favorite part was when the giant rats devour Cutwater and Hold-Your-Nose, resulting in an impressive pool of blood!” Read the full review here.

After Ogden, it was off to our next screening at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Here’s a picture of Keir and me with some of the filmmakers after the show—including David (in the tie), who helped out with the opening skit at the Salt Lake City show!

We showed a lot of great 90-Second Newberys in Salt Lake City too. For instance, C.S. Lewis Academy in Santaquin returned for a second year to the 90-Second Newbery with this marvelous movie of Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted:

As the judges said, “The performances were charismatic and engaging, and it looked like everyone was having a really good time throughout. I appreciated the resourceful use of medieval-ish costumes (especially those fairy wings!) and props like masks, swords, a crown, the shoes, the baby doll and even a big cardboard box for a coffin! That was a fun battle scene with the boys riding in on horses with swords. And I liked how you made a ‘carriage’ out of two boys on those horses galloping in front of Ella and the Prince.” Read the full review here.

I had a great talk with the folks from the C.S. Lewis Academy after the show, and they showed me pictures from the red-carpet premiere they threw at their school for the movie. I’m looking forward to more movies from C.S. Lewis Academy, and other Utah charter schools, for the 2020 screenings!

Orem Elementary School also returned for a second year, this time with six (!!) movies. For instance, this wonderful adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot:

As the judges said, “Starts with kinetic, exciting, high-stakes opening as Dana bullies our hero Roy. We immediately are on Roy’s side as we see him escape. I like how ‘Mullet Fingers’ is disguised in an Iron Man outfit, and Beatrice is a cosplaying Hermione from ‘Harry Potter,’ complete with Hogwarts robes and spell-casting ability (‘Protego!’) . . . Great work!” You can read the complete review here.

Orem Elementary also turned in this fun adaptation of Richard Peck’s 2001 Medal Winner A Year Down Yonder, although the kids who made it weren’t able to attend the screening:

As the judges said, “An exhilarating sprint through the book! That was a fun performance of the crusty, cantankerous ‘Grandma Dowdel,’ and I like how the story was modernized from the 1930s to today by having the characters text each other. The part with the tornado was resourcefully managed by using a storm sound effect and flashing the lights on and off . . . Fast and fun to watch.” You can read the full review here

Orem Elementary also made this adaptation of Sharon Creech’s 1995 Medal Winner Walk Two Moons:

As the judges said, “I like how this movie portrays Sal and her grandparents as sock puppets, serving as a framing device for the story that Sal is telling about her and her friend Phoebe, who are played by real-life actors. Excellent cinematography as well—this movie is very well shot! . . . A fun romp through the book.” The full review is available here here.

Also check out these other movies from Orem Elementary that we showed at the screening: The Westing Game, another version of The Westing Game in the style of “Cluemanji,” a movie of Bridge to Terabithia, and a movie of Bud, Not Buddy. Great job, Orem Elementary School!

I loved my time in Utah, and I can’t wait to come back. Thanks to Michael McClane and the folks at Utah Humanities, Lynne Goodwin and Robert Goodwin and everyone at the Treehouse Museum, Liesl Jacobsen, Sarah Daenitz, Rebecca West, and Aleko Campos of the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Printed Garden bookstore, and all of those young filmmakers and the parents and teachers who supported them.

Here’s to next year! Remember, although movies for next year’s film festival are due in January 2020, you can turn them in anytime! Complete information, including how-to guides and tips, at the 90-Second Newbery website.

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

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