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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newberys from our summer workshop in Hinsdale, IL!

August 16, 2019

As you probably know, about nine years ago I started the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, an annual video contest in which young filmmakers create short movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds. We screen the best entries in 14 cities around the country.

Back in July, I ran a workshop in Utah helping kids make movies for this film festival (check them out, they’re great!) Last week, I assisted eight young filmmakers in a similar five-day 90-Second Newbery workshop at the Community House in Hinsdale, IL. They blew me away with their creativity and hard work! I showcased the three movies they made on the 90-Second Newbery website, but I want to feature their movies here on my blog too.

For instance, one of those filmmakers, Kevin, astonished me when he single-handedly wrote, drew, animated, and edited this cut-paper stop-motion adaptation of E.B. White’s 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web, recruiting the other workshop participants for voice talent:

You can read the full review on the 90-Second Newbery website, but here’s an excerpt: “Kevin’s drawings are expressive, and he animates them with sophistication and flair. The chattering mouths and blinking eyes and moving eyebrows make the characters seem truly alive — I love the way their expressions are constantly changing, especially when they are responding to each other . . . I love the way Wilbur paces nervously when he’s worried about being slaughtered, and the uniquely stylish webs that Charlotte weaves, and the running joke about the exasperated horse who serves as a counterpoint to Wilbur . . . A 90-Second Newbery classic!”

Next up, Porter and Alec were the masterminds behind this bizarre (and yet, in its own way, true-to-the-original) adaptation of the “Dragons and Giants” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together. In the original short story, Frog and Toad wonder if they are brave, and so they venture out into the woods, where they discover that they are in fact terrified of the snakes, birds, and rockslides that bedevil them (even as they nevertheless shout, “I am not afraid!”). In this adaptation, Porter and Alec make a bold and hilarious change to the original story: here, Frog is a tough-as-nails Marine, and Toad is a stealthy, butt-kicking ninja! (But they’re still afraid.)

The full review is on the 90-Second Newbery website, in which the judges say (in part), “This movie has a fantastic premise, stellar acting, glorious use of green-screen special effects, a fun soundtrack . . . and this tweaked story of Porter’s and Alec’s invention somehow still very effectively encapsulates the spirit of the gentle original story, even as it goes over-the-top in its action-movie characteristics. Great work from the rest of the group as fighters and fans in the final cagematch scene, with wonderful over-the-top acting when Toad is seemingly defeated. This is so much fun to watch thanks to Porter’s and Alec’s utterly committed performances!”

And finally, Sarah and Megan made this hilarious and yet pretty accurate adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says, “It’s the acting that makes this movie shine! . . . Ivan’s and Ruby’s extended screaming-and-crying freakout reaction to Stella’s death was masterfully funny. From there, the movie zooms efficiently through Ivan’s plan to rescue himself and Ruby from the zoo through his art . . . The costumes were resourceful (especially those big elephant ears and trunks) and the joyful, goofy performances make this a pleasure to watch throughout.”

I had a fantastic week with these talented, funny, hardworking, and sometimes crazy filmmakers. I’m so glad I was able to do this. I’ll almost certainly feature all three of these movies at the Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery at the Harold Washington Library on March 8, 2020. But we’re also considering bringing a screening of the 90-Second Newbery to Hinsdale itself, too, so folks don’t have to come all the way to Chicago for the screening. Stay tuned!

If you like what we do at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival and you’d like us to continue doing it, please consider donating to the 90-Second Newbery here. Donations are tax-deductible, and be honest, if you’ve read this far into the post, you’re kind of already all-in, aren’t you? The 90-Seconds Newbery Film Festival is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‑profit arts service organization.

Thanks for the great movies, and I’m looking forward to seeing these filmmakers again at the screenings!

90-Second Newbery Movies From My Class At The Treehouse Museum!

July 24, 2019

We just got back from a two-week trip to Utah! It was incredible! Heather and Lucy and Ingrid and I canyoned the canyons, we mountained the mountains, we hoodooed the hoodoos. Some of the landscapes made me feel like I was on Mars. Other landscapes were so jaw-droppingly beautiful that they almost seemed fake and unreal! The trip was a marvelous change from our everyday lives in Chicago, although of course in the end we were glad to come home to our familiar street and friends. Indulge me for a few pictures:

It wasn’t all sightseeing, though. For the first week of the trip, I taught a filmmaking class at Ogden’s Treehouse Museum, helping kids to make movies for submission to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. The Treehouse has hosted 90-Second Newbery screenings in Ogden in 2018 and 2019, and I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with the folks who run this singular children’s museum. Back in the spring, Lynne and Rob Goodwin of the Treehouse suggested that I come out in the summer to teach this filmmaking class, and I eagerly accepted!

As you can see from the movies below, one great advantage about this class is that we got to use the Treehouse Museum’s impressive sets and costumes for the movies. But the best thing were the twelve young filmmakers who participated. Their talent, energy, and ingenuity were amazing to behold. Let’s check out their movies!

The first movie is an adaption of Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Newbery Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street. The original book is about a kid CJ and his Nana who take a bus ride across San Francisco. CJ asks various questions of his Nana, who gives sometimes-whimsical, sometimes-weirdly-evasive answers. I like this book, although I’ve posted before about my own reservations about its character Nana, whom I regard as one of the most insidious villains in all of children’s literature. (Why can’t Nana ever give CJ a straight answer? Why is she always belittling him?)

Here, Eva and Cali and friends give the story an Old West twist. Instead of a bus, it’s a 19th-century train; instead of CJ and Nana visiting a soup kitchen, they’re fixin’ to spring Grandpa out of jail; and here, Nana is a pistol-packing granny (who is similarly unfairly dismissive of CJ’s perfectly reasonable questions):

There’s a full review of this movie on the 90-Second Newbery website, which says in part, “the Old West theme is hilariously and resourcefully fulfilled throughout . . . the best things about this movie are the performances: CJ’s wistful yearning for a horse and her earnest inquisitive nature slowly transforming into boiling irritation with her granny, which comes to a hilariously cathartic climax near the end; and of course the yee-haw pistol-packing granny, who is so amusingly full of crusty personality and hair-trigger violence.”

Adalynn, Crewe, and Cy adapted Scott O’Dell’s 1961 Newbery Medal Winner Island of the Blue Dolphins. The original story is about Karana, a 12-year-old Native American girl stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast.

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says (in part), “Great acting from everyone: Karana’s combination of both openhearted emotion and riled ferocity, Ulepe’s and Isabella’s and Tutok’s goofy humor, Rontu’s amazing comic timing, Ramo’s earnest panic, and the animals’ bloodthirsty rage are all performed amazingly well! . . . The script was tight and yet was unafraid to stray away from the source material to make a funnier and more exciting movie (especially with the last-minute revelation that the dog Rontu can talk, and Karana’s blase reaction to it).”

Summer, Speirs, Aliya, Samantha, and Rudy adapted Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal Winner Holes, but with a twist: instead of the boy Stanley Yelnats being forced to dig holes in a prison camp for a crime he didn’t commit, a girl “Stanla Alnats” is forced to bake rolls in a bakery-diner for a crime she didn’t commit:

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says in part, “Great cinematography, editing, and acting throughout this one! I loved the performances: the Warden’s maniacal evil, Zero’s earnest friendliness, Stanla’s intense emotions, and everyone else too, especially the ‘director’ who grows more and more exasperated at the ever-increasing length of the movie. Resourceful use of music, sound effects, voiceover, a chase scene, and other cinematic techniques throughout . . . I especially loved the surreal courtroom scene!”

Lucy and Molly adapted the “Cookies” vignette Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, but with a twist: instead of Frog and Toad being gentle swamp-dwelling bachelors, they are glamorous butt-kicking secret spies!

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says (in part), “The performances were hilariously tongue-in-cheek, and I liked the hardboiled voiceover and gruff interactions between the two spies. The tense action-movie music, resourceful costumes (sunglasses, hats, vests, and ties), and use of spy movie tropes like secret handoffs in mysterious places, self-destructing messages, and forbidding villains (those smirking birds!) all worked together brilliantly to make this feel like a true action-espionage movie.”

All in all, I loved teaching this class and all four of these movies are fantastic. I’m looking forward to coming back to the Treehouse Museum in the spring for the screening . . . and hopefully for another filmmaking class in next summer, too!

Thanks again Lynne and Rob and Michael and everyone at the Treehouse Museum (including Wes, Gina, David, and everyone else) for bringing me out for this Utah adventure and taking care of us! I had a blast, and I think we got some great 90-Second Newbery movies out of it. I can’t wait to share them at the screenings next year!

That’s A Wrap! Looking Back On The 2019 90-Second Newberys—And Forward To 2020

May 26, 2019

We did it! The eighth season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is finished! From February to May 2019, we put on 14 screenings in 14 cities, with 2883 registered attendees, and over 400 movie submissions. What a ride!

Thank so much to ALL the young filmmakers who submitted their fantastic movies . . . and thanks also to the parents, teachers, and others who assisted them . . . and thanks to the libraries and other organizations that hosted our screenings, and the countless folks who worked behind the scenes to make this amazing season happen.

Did you enjoy this year’s 90-Second Newbery? Please consider kicking a few bucks our way. Our film festival is always free to submit and to attend, but it takes money to run . . . and we depend on private donations to keep going. And it’s tax-deductible! Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Donate so we can continue this madness next year.

Speaking of next year . . . it’s never too early to make and submit a movie. We’re already open for submissions. The deadline is January 10, 2020, but you can turn them in anytime. You will find complete details at the 90-Second Newbery website, including step-by-step instructions on how to make your own, including help in screenwriting, cinematography, green screen, editing, and more.

Let’s look back on an incredible year. Here’s our opening skit, in which my Boston co-host (award-winning author and all-around mensch M.T. Anderson) and I are confronted by the HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL of Newbery winners Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and Meindert de Jong . . . which builds into a rousing rewritten version of “One Day More” from Les Miserables (thanks to Iman as the High Supreme Newbery Council’s pitiless Sergeant-at-Arms, and all the kids who took on that role in the various cities):

I’m thankful to have had so many incredible author co-hosts this year—not only M.T. Anderson in Boston but also longtime 90-Second Newbery partner-in-crime Keir Graff in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Ogden Utah; Newbery Honoree and amazing dancer Rita Williams-Garcia in New York City; the legendary Bruce Coville in Rochester New York; mind-blowingly good singer Jacqueline West in Minneapolis; hilarious picture book author Marcus Ewert in San Francisco and Oakland; game-for-anything Lija Fisher in Boulder, Colorado; the charismatic, will-make-you-feel-like-a-million-bucks Torrey Maldonado in Brooklyn; the frolicsome and funny Doug Mackey in Tacoma; the charming and thoughtful (and bestselling!) Heidi Schulz of Salem, Oregon; and the screwball, perfect-comic-timing genius of Nikki Lofin in San Antonio. Some of them I’ve been working with for years. Others it’s the first time.

But enough about the adults, what about the kids? Let’s sample some the standout movies we received from talented young filmmakers this year. For instance, Fletch and Otto from Tacoma, Washington delighted audiences across the country with their retelling of the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together:

Corbin Stanchfield of Lafayette, Indiana has made a lot of great 90-Second Newbery movies over the years (you can see them all here). This year, he adapted Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book The Sign of the Beaver. The story: it’s the 18th century, and 13-year-old Matt and his father have built a log cabin in the wilderness. Matt’s dad leaves him alone to guard the cabin while he heads back to Maine to get the rest of the family. But then months go by, and Matt’s father still hasn’t returned, so Matt must learn how to survive alone. Without a gun to hunt with, Matt must live on the plain tasteless fish he catches from the river. He deals with stinging bees and befriends Attean, a native American of the nearby Beaver tribe, and even saves Attean’s dog from a trap. With the upcoming winter, the Beaver tribe offers to take care of Matt, but Matt decides to wait for his father—who does finally come back.

Corbin made this movie in the musical styles of the Beatles, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Bruno Mars, and more! And he played all the characters and performed and mixed all the music himself!

We got a lot of amazing movies from the Compass Homeschool Initiative in Tulsa, Oklahoma this year. One of the most popular was of Steve Sheinkin’s 2013 Honor Book Bomb: The Race to Build—And Steal—The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. The book not only tells about the scientists who designed the bomb for the United States, but also the Russian spies who were trying to send those designs back to the Soviet Union. This movie retells this history with a twist: what if the folks who built the bomb weren’t educated scientists, but a bunch of goofballs horsing around in their backyard? This one’s by Josiah, Lee, Davis, Jett, and Jackson:

Let’s check out another movie by the Compass Homeschool Initiative in Tulsa! This one is of Marion Dane Bauer’s 1987 Honor Book On My Honor. When Joel and Tony go out to play, Joel’s father forbids him to go anywhere beyond the bike path. Joel promises he won’t, “On my honor.” But when Tony dares Joel to climb a large and dangerous cliff, Joel does it. Not to be outdone, Joel suggests a swimming race, but then Tony drowns. Joel comes home and at first doesn’t tell anyone what happened, but finally confesses. Here, Cooper, Mason, Lilly, Micah, and Duncan of Tulsa spice it up a bit. Instead of straying away from the bike path to have fun on the cliff, these kids stray away from Whole Foods to have fun at Walmart. And instead of Tony getting drowned, he is instead annihilated by his own heteronormativity in the girl’s toy department. Bonus points for the whiplash insanity of the conclusion:

Ava Levine of Highland Park, Illinois is another 90-Second Newbery veteran with a record of lots of great entries, going all the way back to 2015. This year she turned in this hilarious version of Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins:

The next movie is based on another book about animals— Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner The Tale of Despereaux. The story takes place in a kingdom where soup is forbidden. Why? A rat named Roscuro had fallen into the Queen’s soup, causing her to die of shock. Years later a mouse, Despereaux, falls in love with the Queen’s daughter, Princess Pea. Despereaux breaks mouse law by speaking to Princess Pea. For this, the mice throw Despereaux into the dungeon. Meanwhile, Roscuro tricks servant girl Miggory Sow into kidnapping the Princess and taking her down to the dungeon. Can Despereaux save Princess Pea? Will soup ever be legal again? And . . . can these filmmakers do the whole story in the style of the Les Miserables? The Leland Street Players of Chicago, some of whom I know personally, had my assistance in making this one (you might remember them from last year’s movie of My Father’s Dragon):

Here’s another Kate DiCamillo book adapted by Chicagoans who have participated in making many great 90-Second Newbery movies in the past. It’s 2014 Medal Winner Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures, adapted by John and Meg Alznauer in an ingeniously entertaining stop-motion animated style:

Every year, we receive lots of amazing entries from Mr. Johnson’s fifth grade class at the Grant Center for Expressive Arts in Tacoma, Washington. The first one I’d like to highlight is an adaptation of Sterling North’s 1964 Honor Book Rascal: A Memoir Of A Better Era, the story of a boy and his pet raccoon.

Real talk: this Newbery Honor book actually indirectly caused untold damage all across the country of Japan. It’s true! You see, Rascal was adapted into a Japanese cartoon series, Araiguma Rasukaru, which led to a mania for pet raccoons in that country. Soon the Japanese were importing around 1500 raccoons per month. Now, baby raccoons may be cute, but adult raccoons make terrible pets. In the end most Japanese families released their troublesome full-grown raccoons into the wild, where they wreaked havoc. The Japanese government banned the import of raccoons, but the damage was done. Today, raccoons infest 42 of the 47 prefectures of Japan, rummaging and stealing, spreading rabies, destroying crops and damaging ancient temples with their sharp claws and abundant poop. So great job, Sterling North.

This clever and funny movie of Rascal has its own idea of what the raccoon did after he was released into the wild, and got a great reaction wherever I showed it across the country:

Here’s another super-entertaining movie from Tacoma’s Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, by Nevaeh, Olivia, Nick, Leo, and Addy. It’s based on “The Gingi,” one of the many spooky short stories in Patricia McKissack’s 1993 Honor Book The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. In the story, a mother foolishly buys a strange statue she sees in the window of a junk shop, even though she’s been warned not to. But the statue has an evil spirit in it—the Dabobo. Luckily, this mother also takes from the store a nicer-looking doll that looks like a monkey. The mother’s daughter is afraid of the evil statue, but she loves the monkey. Soon the evil statue is causing mischief in the house, although the monkey is trying hard to stop it. But what happens when the Dabobo goes beyond mere mischief? Will the family survive? This movie is made with a twist: what if instead of a statue, the mother brought home a McDonald’s Happy Meal? And what if the evil Dabobo is actually an evil hamburger?

Mr. Johnson’s class also did a unique adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet. That book is about a boy, Brian, who is going on a plane trip to visit his father. Before he leaves, his mother gives him a hatchet as a gift. (Wait, you can take a hatchet on a plane? Well, yeah, it was the eighties.) Anyway, Brian’s going to need that hatchet, because his pilot dies of a heart attack mid-flight and they crash in the wilderness. Brian survives the plane crash . . . but can he survive hundreds of miles from civilization with nothing but a hatchet? This movie is by Charlie, Owen, Abigail, JoVaughn, Oliver, and Jamirie, and it asks the question, what if Hatchet was more like Fortnite?

Here’s one more from Mr. Johnson’s class in Tacoma—a movie of last year’s Newbery Medal winner Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. It’s about four kids’ lives that collide in unexpected ways. There’s nerdy Virgil; brave Valencia; self-proclaimed psychic Kaori; and bully basketball player Chet. They aren’t friends, or at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his beloved pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This leads Kaori and Valencia on a quest to find Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and some help from the universe, Virgil is rescued, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

This movie—by Michael, Sophia, David, Lyric, Madi, and Sophie—asks: what really happened when Virgil went down that well? And what happens when a guinea pig gets mad?

The San Antonio screening of the 90-Second Newbery is special because, with the generous sponsorship of HEB Texas Grocery and the Hidalgo Foundation, we’re able to offer prizes for first, second, and third place movies, as well as some honorable mentions. You can see all of San Antonio’s 2019 winners here, but the grand prize of $1500 went to Boerne High School of Boerne, Texas for APAP Productions’ very professional and impressive adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver:

One of the things I love best about the 90-Second Newbery is discovering the various never-would’ve-expected ways people make movies. Here is one of the most distinctive 90-Second Newbery movies I’ve seen. It’s by Tanner Goethals of Ogden, Utah, and it’s an adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1987 Medal Winner The Whipping Boy, made using Microsoft 3D Movie Maker . . . which is software from the 1990s! I need to learn how to use this software, I love the glitchy ’90s look of this!

I also love seeing unique perspectives on the material. Everyone knows about Katherine Applegate’s heartwarming 2013 Medal Winner, The One and Only Ivan. But what if that story—about a silverback gorilla trapped in a bad zoo and his friendship with an elephant in that same zoo—was done in Claymation, in the style of a Lovecraftian body-horror Cronenberg nightmare? Indeed, what if the filmmakers discarded the plot entirely, and concentrated almost entirely on mind-bendingly disturbing monstrous Claymation effects? I mean . . . what if?

There were so many fantastic 90-Second Newbery movies we received this year . . . really, too many to put into one blog post. I hope this sampling of some movies from this year inspires you for next year. Please start making your movies now! You can turn them in anytime, but the deadline is January 10, 2020! Get cracking . . . and you can find plenty of help here!

And don’t be afraid to donate to the 90-Second Newbery here. It’s safe and it’s tax-deductible, and be honest, if you’ve read this far into the post, you’re kind of already all-in, aren’t you? Help us out!

Interested in reliving one of the particular screenings? I have links to recaps of all of the screenings in the various cities right here:

Febuary 9, 2019 with Nikki Loftin in San Antonio, Texas
February 15-16, 2019 with Keir Graff in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah
February 23, 2019 with Jacqueline West in Minneapolis, Minnesota
March 10, 2019 with Keir Graff in Chicago, Illinois
March 17, 2019 with Bruce Coville in Rochester, New York
March 22, 2019 with Heidi Schulz in Salem, Oregon
March 23, 2019 with Doug Mackey in Tacoma, Washington
March 30-31, 2019 with Rita Williams-Garcia and Torrey Maldonado in New York City and Brooklyn
April 6-7, 2019 with Marcus Ewert in San Francisco and Oakland, California
April 27, 2019 with M.T. Anderson in Boston, Massachusetts
May 11, 2019 with Lija Fischer in Boulder, Colorado

Let’s wrap it up with some fun pictures from the various screenings. See you next year! Get cracking on those videos!

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