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The Order of Oddfish

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Episode 3 of the Secrets of Story Podcast: Laika and the Blue Mouse!

March 23, 2017

Hoo boy, do I have egg on my face! I totally forgot to post this back in January!

Some background. My friend Matt Bird and I started a podcast a few months ago called The Secrets of Story. In it, we try to figure out between us what makes a good story tick. What are the pro moves that great novelists and screenwriters do? What are the cringe-making mistakes that writers should avoid? Our podcast aims to get to the bottom of it!

But wait! What authority do Matt and I have to host such a podcast?

Well, Matt is the author of the excellent screenwriting/novel-writing advice book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (which you should go out and buy). It’s based on his storytelling advice blog Secrets of Story, of which I’m a longtime fan and sometime contributor. It’s a great blog! I’ve been reading it for years!

Okay, those are Matt’s credentials. But what right do I have to co-host this podcast? Well . . . Matt invited me. That’s about it. That’s enough, right? And I’m interested in understanding what makes for good stories. The Order of Odd-Fish came out years ago, but for one reason or another (including marvelous Lucy and Ingrid and starting the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival), although I’ve written plenty since then, I haven’t published anything. So starting this podcast is kind of like a therapy for me. Maybe, through talking over storytelling issues with Matt, I can figure out how to move forward?!

Speaking of moving forward… Here is Episode 3 of that very podcast. The problem is, we posted it on January 13, but I’m not blogging about it until now… a full 2+ months later! What gives?

The answer is pretty mundane. I just forgot. The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening season was cranking up just around then, and I was overwhelmed, and I missed blogging about it.

Which is a shame, because this is a great episode! Some background: in an earlier episode, Matt initiated what he hoped would be a recurring feature, in which he or I “give away” story ideas. Matt’s idea was about Laika, the first dog in space, who was shot up there by the Russians in 1957, and who presumably died up there. Matt’s story said, what if, instead of Laika dying in space in the Sputnik-2 as we all thought, she was scooped up by aliens? And what if those aliens are constantly watching all the planets with intelligent life, and the first time any planet sends a living organism into space, those aliens whisk away the organism (in this case, Laika) in order to test them, to see if that planet is worthy to be included in the Galactic Empire—and if they fail the test, the planet is destroyed? And so then Laika is put in the odd position of fighting for the life of the planet that only hours ago callously flung her up into space to die?

I liked this idea. So I did something to surprise Matt. In the next episode, I was supposed to show up with my own idea to “give away.” But instead, I wrote a 75-page script based on Matt’s idea! True, I did write the script in only 3 days, so it ain’t perfect, but I thought it was a fun exercise. You can download the script here if you’re interested. It puts a kind of Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Rick and Morty spin on Matt’s idea.

Or you can listen to the above podcast! I got together with my niece and nephew Freya and Theo, and together we performed the script, which is called “Laika and the Blue Mouse.” In the above podcast, Matt and I listen to the recording of Freya’s, Theo’s, and my performance, and every once in a while Matt breaks in to give some critique of the script.

It’s fun! But it’s over two hours! So listener beware. And full disclosure, it’s not my best writing. But I thought it would be a fun experiment to crank something out quickly and then put it through the wringer of Matt’s critique. I think we all surprised ourselves and learned something. Anyway, go listen to it (even though I’m posting it months late!).

And if you want to listen in on the lively debate about the script, with lots of great advice from the commenters, check out the comments section in this post on Matt’s blog.

90-Second Newbery 2017: Thanks, New York!

March 14, 2017

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive! Want us to keep doing this? Make a tax-deductible donation here.

This past weekend Keir Graff (author of The Matchstick Castle) and I co-hosted back-to-back screenings of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. We had great crowds at both venues! This year we got much more participation than usual from the New York area. Above is a collage of screenshots of some of the movies we received from New York this year.

A video of the opening musical skit exists, but unfortunately the sound quality wasn’t as crisp as it was for the Minneapolis screening. If you want to see a good version of the opening skit, check out the Minneapolis version here, starring me, Keir, and this year’s Newbery Medal winner Kelly Barnhill.

The opening skit was all about how odd it is that so many animals die in Newbery-winning books. As the skit goes on, Keir and I come upon a “Newbery-matic 7000” contraption that produces Newbery-winning manuscripts, but at a price: a live animal must be sacrificed! And so we end up murdering the pet of a child in the audience. In Minneapolis, that child was played by a girl named Hadley; in New York, the part was played by one of our filmmakers, Violet.

Violet did a fantastic job, and on super-short notice! This isn’t Violet’s first year involved with the 90-Second Newbery, either. Last year, Violet and her partner-in-crime Ocean adapted Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot with stop-motion Legos; this year, they made an adaptation of Tomie dePaola’s 2000 Honor Book 26 Fairmount Avenue, entirely with stop-motion Playmobil figures:

The 90-Second Newbery website said of this video, “an accomplished and impressive feat of stop-motion animation . . . So much detail and love went into this! It’s fantastic!”

It was great fun to show off movies from other 90-Second Newbery veterans too, like Jillian and Joseph Parrino. Check out Jillian’s submission this year, an adaptation of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl in the style of Hamilton:

As the judges said at the 90-Second Newbery website, “Flat-brilliant . . . the songs were cleverly shortened and edited to make a smooth flow. It’s a smart concept that fits with unexpected serendipity with the source material.”

Jillian’s brother Joseph made a first-rate video too, of Marion Dane Bauer’s 1987 Honor Book On My Honor . . . with a cast entirely of fruit! You can check it out here, along with the judges’ praise! Both movies killed at the screening!

Here are Keir and I with Jillian and Joseph after the show. I look forward to getting their movies every year!

I can’t include every movie that we featured on Saturday and Sunday in this post, or the post would go on forever. But I did want to draw attention to this strange and original adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan by Milo and Levi of the Carroll Gardens branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s done entirely with sampled clips from all over the Internet:

A new way to do 90-Second Newberys! The judges said this one is “original, goofy, and entertaining… original and extremely enjoyable!”

There are a lot more great entries where those came from! Click on these below to see other local entries featured at the screenings at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library:

The War That Saved My Life by Brooklyn Friends School
Frog and Toad Together by Jada and Tatayana of the Brooklyn Public Library
Last Stop on Market Street by the Clarendon branch of the Brooklyn Public Library
Last Stop on Market Street by the Cortelyou branch of the Brooklyn Public Library
Charlotte’s Web by the Bedford Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library
When You Reach Me by Kenzie and Hannah of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
El Deafo by Emi and Mamie of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Courage of Sarah Noble by Celia and Sarah, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by the Gravesend branch of the Brooklyn Public Library
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Mohana of New York, NY (not available online yet)

After the show, we invited just the filmmakers onstage. Here are Keir and I with some of the young filmmakers who came to the New York Public Library screening:

And here we are with some of the moviemakers who made it to the Brooklyn screening:

It takes a lot of people working together to put on these shows. At the New York Public Library, thanks to to Tali Stolzenberg-Myers, Aisha Ahmad-Post, Caitlyn Colman-McGaw, Emily Nichols, and Emily Krell… as well as the folks at the Andreas Dracopolous Endowment for Young Audiences. Thanks also to Paquita Campoverde, Brandon Graham, and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library who helped out. Thanks to the Crosswicks Foundation and Penguin Young Readers. Thanks to my co-host Keir Graff, and of course thanks to all the young filmmakers and the teachers, family, and facilitators who help them make these great movies!

To wrap up, here’s the closing montage we played at the New York Public Library:

And the closing montage at the Brooklyn Public Library:

See you next year, New York!

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive! Want us to keep doing this? Make a tax-deductible donation here.

90-Second Newbery 2017: Thank you, Minneapolis!

March 2, 2017

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive! Want us to keep doing this? Make your tax-deductible donation here.

The 6th annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is in full swing, rolling across this great and glorious land of ours!

So far we’ve done shows in San Antonio, Tacoma, Portland, Oakland, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. (Phew!) I haven’t blogged about them yet because I haven’t had time, but I wanted to blog about Minneapolis as soon as possible because of our special co-host.

(Hey! If you can, come to our upcoming screenings in New York City, Brooklyn, Rochester NY, Chicago, Asheville, and/or Boston! I promise a great show and it’s free! In this economy, can you beat that? Full schedule here.)

Usually I have only one co-host. But this year I’m doing most of my screenings with TWO co-hosts. The first is always Keir Graff, author of the brand-new, rollicking, adventurous, funny children’s novel The Matchstick Castle. The second co-host changes from town to town, usually a local children’s author.

Who was my local co-host in Minneapolis? None other than the one and only Kelly Barnhill, who JUST HAPPENED TO WIN THE 2017 NEWBERY MEDAL for her magical, inventive, poetic The Girl Who Drank the Moon! I’m so happy for Kelly—I’m a fan of her previous books The Witch’s Boy and The Mostly True Story of Jack, and in fact Kelly has co-hosted the Minneapolis 90-Second Newbery twice before (here we are in 2016 and 2015).

Yes, I knew her when!

Kelly has always been a fantastic co-host, with great crowd rapport, and always game for whatever singing-and-dancing goofery the show might call for.

The crowd was ready for it! We completely filled up the Pohlad Auditorium in the Central Library of Minneapolis, with an audience of well over two hundred. By tradition, we always start the show with a singing-and-dancing skit. In this year’s opening skit, Kelly teaches Keir and me the secret to writing Newbery Medal-winning books. A gruesome device is revealed, a volunteer from the audience is roped in, Kate DiCamillo is affectionately denounced, there is some (tasteful!) murder, and then Kelly, Keir and I launch into the opening number from “Hamilton” with a 90-Second Newbery twist. I know what you’re asking: is there a video of these three middle-aged white people incompetently rapping? Of course! Scroll back up, check out the video!

Watched the video? Okay, so the girl from the audience who helped us out is named Hadley. She has attended 90-Second Newbery screenings before, but this was the first time she’s ever been part of the show! Here we are hanging out afterwards:

Thanks, Hadley! You dad a fantastic job, especially on such short notice!

Speaking of folks I just met at the show . . . I had a special surprise: I met a girl named Leonie who is a fan of my novel The Order of Odd-Fish! She was wearing an “Aznath, the Silver Kitten of Deceit” costume (confused? just read the book) and she also gave me this fantastic fan art, below!

For those of you who have read Odd-Fish, Leonie here illustrates the scene of when the cockroach butlers force Jo to wear “The Hat of Honor” and parade her over to the gossip columnist Chatterbox’s apartment:

Beautiful, amazing! I like that it’s an over-the-shoulder POV shot from Chatterbox’s window, cool choice! The Hat of Honor is hilariously elaborate, the joyous cockroaches are both anatomically accurate and yet dressed exactly as foppishly as I imagined, and I love all the spectators peeking in on the situation — including an incognitio Belgian Prankster at the bottom! (And is that the Schwenk flying in the sky in the background?) Masterful, Leonie! Thank you so much. (Intrigued by this glimpse into the world of The Order of Odd-Fish? Learn more about the book here.)

OK, back to the 90-Second Newbery! We received ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE videos from Minnesota this year. An embarrassment of riches! There were so many great ones! We ended up showing twelve movies from Minnesota, plus a few other great movies from around the country. If I featured all twelve in this post, it would be way too long, so I’ll just highlight three of them and link to the rest. They’re all winners!

First up, here’s Cece Bell’s 2015 Newbery Honor book El Deafo, as adapted by Jackie Hjelden’s class at Highlands Elementary in Edina, MN:

I especially liked the way Cece gapes with puppy-love eyes at Mike Miller! You can see the judges’ complete comments on the video here.

Next, here’s a Claymation version of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Medal Winner A Wrinkle in Time by Aubrey and Gia of Ms. Nite’s class at Anwatin’s Middle School:

I love the way the brain melts at the end under the relentless might of “the power of love”! Read the judges’ praise and commentary of the movie here.

Here’s another movie that was a huge hit at the film festival, a Lego stop-motion adaptation of Sharon Creech’s 2001 Honor Book The Wanderer, by Bai Li Johnson of Inver Grove Heights Middle Middle School:

Painstakingly animated, frequently ingenious, sometimes funny, and genuinely touching! Check out the judges’ complete comments here.

Like I said, we featured twelve Minnesota videos, way too many to put in one blog post! But if you’re interested, do check these out too, they all show a lot of hard work, resourcefulness, and wit on the part of the filmmakers:

Another adaptation of El Deafo by Highlands Elementary of Edina, MN, this time by Adna, Emily, Louisa, Reid, and Tyler.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Max, Owen, and Simon of Creek Valley Elementary of Edina, MN.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Franklin, Harry, Noah, and Elijah of Sanford Middle School of Minneapolis.

A Wrinkle in Time by Cherry, Laura, Avery, Isaac, and Mira of Glacier Hills Elementary School of Eagen, MN.

Holes by Inga, Rose, Annabelle of Countryside Elementary in Edina, MN.

Kira-Kira by Olivia of Edina, MN.

Bridge to Terabithia by Kathleen, Taylor, Reid, and Milo of Creek Valley Elementary of Edina, MN.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Dylan, Sam, and Eli of Somerset Elementary School of Mendota Heights, MN.

The Westing Game by Emily, Insley, Ellie M., and Ellie S. of St. Paul Academy and Summit School of St. Paul, MN.

Congratulations on being screened . . . and thank you to all these fantastic young moviemakers, and the teachers, family, and others who helped and supported them.

A very special thank you to Jen Verbrugge and Jen Nelson of the Minnesota Department of Education, for sponsoring this program. And thanks to Keir Graff and Kelly Barnhill for being such talented and enthusiastic co-hosts yet again. And thanks to Katherine and Marcus at Addendum Books for making our books available at the screening . . . and for hosting Keir, Kelly, and me at their bookstore the night before the screening!

Here’s a montage of all the movies we showed in Minneapolis. If I didn’t show your movie, it’s not because I didn’t like it, it’s just because we didn’t have time to show all the great stuff we received this year! I’m looking forward to seeing what you make for next year. (Hopefully, there will be a few adaptations of The Girl Who Drank the Moon in the mix… In Claymation? As musicals? In the style of Monty Python? Or in the format of a Seinfeld episode? Who knows? Go crazy!)

Again, want to keep the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival going next year? We run this dog-and-pony show on a shoestring. Believe me, every dollar counts! Make your tax-deductible donation here.

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