order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

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“OwlyVoices” Makes a Full-Cast Audio Adaptation of Chapter One of The Order of Odd-Fish

May 23, 2016

A few months ago I found something terrific on the Internet. A group of super-talented people had taken the first chapter of The Order of Odd-Fish and recorded it as an audio drama, complete with sound effects, music, narrator, different actors for all the parts, everything! I was floored by how good it was. Such engaged and committed performances! The sound and music and editing were so well-done! You can hear Part 1 through the video above; parts 2 and 3 are below.

Naturally I had to get in touch with the person behind this!

Her name is Kirsten, and she’s a 21-year-old voice actor and writer (you can follow her on Tumblr at owlyvoices.tumblr.com for more voice acting, plus updates and casting calls for Order of Odd-Fish and other projects). I asked her why she chose this book and she wrote back:

Well, I’ve been a big fan of Order of Odd-Fish for a few years now (I’ve read it at least 9 times, honestly) . . . I really wanted to hear what these amazing characters would sound like if they had actual, audible voices, and I wanted to try and introduce the book to other people, too.

I first found the book at my public library about 5 or 6 years ago when I was looking for something to do a book report on. I thought the cover looked really weird (it was the hardcover edition), and the synopsis seemed pretty interesting, so I went ahead and checked it out. Now, it’s my favorite book, and I actually own two copies.

First of all: thank you! Secondly: hooray for public libraries! It’s inspiring for me when folks just find my book randomly, on their own, and end up digging it.

Here’s part 2 of the recording:

I asked Kirsten what particular challenges she had in recording this. Kirsten wrote back,

For me, there were three layers of challenges. First, I had to type up the first chapter of the book so that the voice actors would have a script to follow. I actually missed a few lines here and there and didn’t catch them until the actors had already sent me their completed lines, whoops. Then, as the narrator, I had to try and not flub up anywhere (I flubbed a lot, though), and try to make my voice sound half as interesting as the book was. Finally, as the editor, I had the challenge of trying to fit everyone’s lines in where I wanted them, so that it sounded natural and had good timing. Since everyone recorded using different audio equipment and settings, too, I had to try and edit everything to sound at least similar enough that it was possible the characters were all in the same room together. Oh, and finding just the right royalty-free music and sound effects was pretty hard, too!

Fantasy, who plays Jo on the recording, talked about the recording too:

The challenges I faced would have to be trying not to laugh. Haha. It is a fun book to read through if you want to get a good laugh out of. Also trying to get the emotions so it matches the character but it was a fun process because I then get to see what ways I can portray this character so it fits for who she is . . . I learned a better understanding of Jo’s character and being able to put myself in her situation. When you do whether your acting out the character or not, you get deeper and deeper into what goes on.

Leara Morris-Clark (who played the eggplant lady as well as providing additional background voices) added, “I was mostly challenged by doing the background chatter. I am not very good at that.” Nonsense, Leara! You were great, as was everyone else!

Here’s part 3 of the recording:

The director Kristen concluded with,

I learned that editing larger-scale audio is pretty hard sometimes, but actually tons of fun! And that adding music in just the right place really helps hide weird tones in audio recordings . . . As of now, we’re planning on recording a few more scenes from the book! And by “a few,” I mean . . . a lot. I really need to narrow down the choices, pick just a few. The next scene we’ll be doing will either be Sefino’s introduction (in which case, we will need to find a Sefino), or the scene from the Dust Creek Cafe (in which case, we will need to find several old people). Either way, it’s going to be a blast!

And I know it will sound great!

Thanks so much for making these recordings. I feel very lucky and honored to have my book be the focus of your talent and hard work. I can’t wait to hear more!

And folks, you can check out more of Kirsten and friends and all her great projects at owlyvoices.tumblr.com.

90-Second Newbery 2016: Philadelphia!

May 18, 2016

as king and me onstage

We did the final screening of this year’s fifth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at Friends Central School near Philadelphia, PA! It was co-hosted by me and the amazing prizewinning young adult author A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz, I Crawl Through It, and many other great books). I’ve loved Amy and her books ever since I first met her at an ALA event many years ago. She hilariously nailed our opening song-and-dance number (as well as all the between-movie banter)! Unfortunately there’s no recording of the opening. Too bad! The photo above will have to suffice.

I also had the opportunity to visit classrooms at Friends Central that day, to talk about The Order of Odd-Fish and being an author. It was a really welcoming vibe at this school, and the students were very engaged and energetic! Here I am at lunch with some of them earlier that day:

lunch with kids at fcs

One of the reasons we brought the 90-Second Newbery to Friends Central was because of the numerous great movies we received from the school that year, led by teachers Alex McDonnell and Rebecca Guenther. For instance, this masterful stop-motion version of Sharon Creech’s 1995 Medal Winner Walk Two Moons:

Great stop-motion, very fluid and expressive! The cinematography was crisp and assured. I liked the resourcefulness of the materials used—the cardboard-made car, the people made of yarn, the tiny clothes they wore. And the script was tight and funny too, with committed voiceover acting: “Who do you think that was?” “I think it was a lunatic!” got a chuckle from me, and “Gran looks pretty green” was delivered really well too. The star for me: that frisky Claymation snake!

But that’s not all we got from Friends Central! There were also two versions of Richard Peck’s 1999 Honor Book A Long Way From Chicago:

This one also had good use of establishing shots and green screen. I like how it used the book’s framing device of having the child asking the father about the old days (and the child is the same one who plays Grandma Dowdel!). Grandma Dowdel’s secret wink at the “no trespassing” sign was well done. I like how they went from paddling a canoe down the river to jumping straight out of the canoe and running when the sheriff yells after them. Entertaining and accurate to the book!

Here’s the other version of A Long Way From Chicago:

Resourceful and fun! I liked how at the very beginning, the bellowing of “Chicago!!” and the zooming in on the train pulling into the station established the kids’ arrival in town, and made a good bookend at the movie’s conclusion. The characters of Joey and Mary Alice (and their situation) were deftly and efficiently introduced. I liked “Joey’s” extreme reaction to the cheese smell. The driving scene and fence-hopping scene were both pulled off quite cleverly. Good use of the green screen, especially in the canoe fishing scene. Joey, Mary-Alice, and Grandma Dowdel (with that wonderful shawl!) all had good performances, but of course the drunken sheriff stole the show!

Next up is Cynthia Kadohata’s 2005 Medal Winner Kira-Kira:

The convincing and emotional voiceover narration pushed the plot along quickly without seeming too hasty, and I like how it alternated between the voiceover narration and the purely dramatized scenes. (The girls walking past our hero gabbing about some boy in a vocal-fry drawl, “Oh my god he is so cute,” was a nice touch). Great cameo by the baby! I like the switch to black and white when Lynn dies. The conclusion, using the green screen to make it look like Katie is looking out at the ocean, making a heart over her head with her hands, was resourcefully done!

Here’s another one done with puppets—this time of Elizabeth George Speare’s 1959 Medal Winner The Witch of Blackbird Pond:

I knew I was going to love this one from the very beginning, with that bonkers music! I liked the sped-up voices which made everyone sound like they’re in “South Park”! And the dialogue is deliciously smart-aleck: “I just live in a suspicious-looking cottage,” “It must the witch that nobody ever proved is the witch,” and “I know I’ll never see you again but I hope you have a good life!” are just some of the many great lines from the witty, hyper-fast script. The cardboard sets and the clay figures on the ends of sticks (or are they pipe cleaners?) were resourcefully crafted. Ingenious!

And finally we have Mildred D. Taylor’s 1977 Medal Winner Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry:

Good script and acting. I like it when extra attention is spent on costumes like they do here. The cinematography on some of the scenes, especially the first one, is particularly well-composed. I liked the energy of the fight scene and the chaotic kinetic action of the stealing scene. Good background music through the whole thing, and it wrapped up well with the voiceover over the image of the fire!

Thanks again, everyone at Friends Central School, for hosting me and the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! And special thanks to co-host A.S. King and Alex McDonnell, Rebecca Guenther, and all the teachers and students who made me feel so welcome. And thanks to the filmmakers too! See you next year!

90-Second Newbery 2016: Rochester, NY!

May 6, 2016

rochester 2016 90sn collage smaller

On April 3, 2016 we screened the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival for the first time in Rochester, New York! From the very beginning of the festival, five years ago, we’ve been getting a disproportionate number of great entries from the Rochester area. It’s high time Rochester folks stopped having to make the hours-long trek to the New York City screenings, and have the festival come to them! We did it at the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman Museum, and packed the house.

Here are all the Rochester area filmmakers, whom we brought up onstage at the end of the show:

all the filmmakers smaller

Who’s that sitting in the middle with me? It’s my co-host, Newbery Medal winner and Rochesterian Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard), and she was fantastic! Great comic timing, total commitment, strong singing voice, and she rolled with the punches like a pro when the audio of our opening song cut out (I also appreciated that she memorized all of her lines, and went onstage without a script—brave dedication). Here we are in the opening skit, in which Linda Sue shines as a time-traveling version of herself who has come back to warn us everyone the dystopian future the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival will cause:

Later on in the show, we also got a visit from the energetic and refreshingly silly Mr. Loops, a children’s musician from the Rochester area, who took the stage ostensibly to sing about the benefits of reading books, but kept getting sidetracked:

(Thanks to Joshua Bloodworth for shooting those videos of the show!)

At the screening, we showed not only great 90-Second Newberys from all over the country, but also many from right in Rochester. For instance, here’s one that I’ve already featured on the blog, by Devin Grover of Animutus Studio’s Animation Workshop in Rochester—it’s his stop-motion version of the vignette “The Garden” from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together:

As I’ve said before, I love the way this is animated, with Frog and Toad both coming alive with many little motions, blinking and fidgeting and gesturing! Marvelous attention to detail, right down to the lushly-drawn backdrops, background music and sound effects, and the vocal performances too. I can’t wait to see what Devin and the Animation Workshop make for next year!

Here’s another stop-motion movie we got from the Rochester area, this time done with Legos! It’s by the arts and technology educational group ArtsROC, and it’s of Lloyd Alexander’s 1969 Medal Winner The High King:

That’s quite elaborate, high-production value Lego stop motion! And not just a technical achievement: those are some hilarious voice performances too, totally capturing the spirit of the books, with the give-and-take between Taran and Eilonwy in full force (“Who knew a sword would reign supreme?” “I did, that’s why I got it!”) and all the other characters too. It ambitiously sums up not just The High King but the entire Chronicles of Prydain in one movie! And the “Day the Music Died” song was cleverly rewritten for the occasion.

The 90-Second Newbery owes a lot of its success to Deb Ross, who runs the family events website Kids Out And About (covering not just Rochester, but many cities!). I came to meet Deb and her husband when their daughters Madison and Ella made a bunch of fantastic 90-Second Newbery movies in the early years (and even crashed in their upstairs bedroom a few nights back then . . . thanks!). Madison and I even did our own version of “Between Two Ferns” a couple of years back at Rochester Community TV, with the help of my other Rochester partners and RCTV folks Carol White Llewellyn and Joshua Bloodworth. This is all a roundabout way of saying that Madison and Ella and their friends did a great adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1941 Honor Book The Long Winter:

Brisk, entertaining, satisfying! Good use of olde-tymey violin and chilly wintry wind sounds throughout. I love the way the guys are continually scarfing down pancakes while the other guy insists “we’re starving!” Resourceful use of actual snowy weather for the exterior shots, and the guy who gives up the wheat was delightfully acted. But of course the funniest line was the final one, the exultant “We can go back to our normal 19th century routine of drudgery and farm work!”

Every summer Rochester Community Television (RCTV) and Rochester-based Writers and Books, led by Joshua Bloodworth, put on a moviemaking camp in which they make a bunch of great 90-Second Newbery movies that are always a cut above. I especially like how they always make sure to put a weird twist on the material—as they do here, with a clever reversal of the premise of Jean Craighead George’s 1960 Honor Book My Side of the Mountain:

I like how the filmmakers made their premise clear right away in the voiceover part in the beginning, while our hero is writing his letter in the hubbub of the classroom. Maybe my favorite part: “That was a lot of work…. for them” with a pan over to the workers. The tour from of the house (all inside that tree?!) was very amusing too, especially in the bathroom. “What do you do for food?” “What do you think? I hired a butler!” was funny, especially since all his “fancy food” is just chips on a tray. Great performances from everyone. And that peregrine falcon was to die for!

The RCTV/Writers & Books Camp also adapted Ingrid Law’s 2009 Honor Book Savvy:

Using a skeptical talk show interview (or was it a therapist?) as the framing device was a smart twist. I like how the talk show host / therapist resisted Mibs’ story every step of the way (“So now the sun’s talking to you?” followed by Mibs’ eye-rolling shrug), and how Mibs blithely blew past all her skepticism with milliennial memespeak. I also liked how the Dad-in-a-coma actually mouths the words “I’m in a coma.” The performances are assured and committed, especially from Mibs, who carries this whole thing with her enthusiastic, buoyant energy!

The last entry by RCTV/Writers & Books Camp was of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s novel Esperanza Rising. Now, while it might be true that Pam Muñoz Ryan has won a Newbery Honor in 2016 for Echo, she didn’t get any Newbery love for Esperanza Rising! Disqualifying as an entry for the film festival? Whatever, this movie is a goodie, so I’ll let it slide:

It was a stroke of brilliance to do “Esperanza Rising” in the style of a telenovela! The opening credits are marvelous—that wind machine blowing everyone’s hair while the music from “The Young and the Restless” plays and everyone turns around dramatically in black-and-white! The dramatic music throughout was great. I like the melodramatic arc this movie finds for Esperanza, from snotty-girl-who-can’t-even-sweep-properly to scrappy fighter. The histrionic acting from everyone was a hoot. The conclusion, with its slow-motion reunion in the field, and Esperanza flying up into the inspiring blue sky, was satisfying too. Great work!

Hmmm. Now, we’ve already been over the fact that Esperanza Rising didn’t win a Newbery. Neither did Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee, but that didn’t stop Eian-Gabriel Sinclair from making this absolutely charming stop-motion:

OK, OK, even though it didn’t win a Newbery, I’ll allow it! I love the charming and painstaking stop-motion animation with the beautifully-crafted clay figures. And the original music was quite well-done too! (As a matter of fact, after the show I got to meet the maker of this movie, Eian-Gabriel Sinclair, and he gave me his own handmade illustrated history of filmmaking. Thanks again for that, Eian-Gabriel!)

It turns out that Rochester is a hotbed of stop-motion talent. Here’s yet another one, by Ginger Veneziani Flowe. It’s of Patricia Reilly Giff’s 2003 Honor Book Pictures of Hollis Woods:

So much beautiful artistry here. I knew I was in good hands from the very start, when the 3-dimensional wire-and-hair Hollis breaks away from the fading, gradually erased two-dimensional stick figures in the background, subtly demonstrating the character’s alienation. When the “W” of Hollis’ last name turns upside-down to form the mountain of the “mountain of trouble,” I thought that was a brilliant stroke! And then when that mountain starts getting filled in and complicated with other details, I was even more impressed. The voiceovers were sensitive and well-done, the music well-chosen. When Stephen and Hollis embrace near the end, I felt more emotion than I reasonably should feel when two wire figures embrace! Bravo!

Last but not least, I also received two versions of Kate DiCamillo’s 2001 Honor Book Because of Winn-Dixie from Clifton, NY:

I liked the idea of retelling the crisis moment in Because of Winn-Dixie as a special news bulletin! Special extra points for when the anchorman loses his objective cool in the middle of it and bursts into outraged emotion. Original and fun!

And that’s it for this year’s Rochester screening of the 90-Second Newbery! Thanks again to Linda Sue Park for being a superb co-host; to Mr. Loops for his fun song and irrepressible attitude (he serenaded everyone while they were in line to enter the show!); to Deb Ross of KidsOutAndAbout, for a million things; Carol White Llewellyn, for a million more (check out her award-winning series Conversations With Creatives, on which I was once a guest); Joshua Bloodworth of RCTV, who filmed the show excerpts we saw at the top of the post; the folks at Writers and Books, especially Sally Bittner Bonn, Joe Flaherty, and Chris Fanning; the folks at George Eastman Museum and the Dryden Theatre, especially Eliza Kozlowski, Kellie Fraver, and Jurij Meden; sponsor Delta Airlines, especially Katie Carroll; and sponsor Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library, especially Rebecca Fuss and Ned Davis. And of course thank you to all the young filmmakers and their friends, family, and teachers who helped out and encouraged them!

Let’s close it up with a montage of all the great movies we showed at the screening that day. I’m already looking forward to what you’ll make for next year, Rochester!

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