order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Detroit Institute of Arts!

September 21, 2016

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. In high school, I used to go to the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts all the time. The DFT is where I first saw David Lynch on the big screen. It’s where I learned about Jane Campion, Werner Herzog, Akira Kurosawa, so many great filmmakers. There was no Internet to speak of in the late 80s and early 90s. Video stores were a mixed bag, to put it mildly. So if you were fascinated by great and strange movies, and you lived around Detroit, then there were only a few theater options: the Main Art in Royal Oak, the Maple in Bloomfield Hills, and the Detroit Film Theatre. The DFT was my favorite. Just look at it:


With that buildup, you can just imagine my enthusiasm when I got the opportunity to bring the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival to the Detroit Film Theatre! Back on August 26 and 27, we showcased a “Best Of The 90-Second Newbery” screening at the very same place where I used to thrill to Wild At Heart and Touch of Evil!

My co-host was the hilarious, brilliant, and very game Maria Dismondy, author of picture books such as Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun and The Juice Box Bully. Check out the video of her and me at the top of this post, doing the opening song-and-dance of What Would John Newbery Do? She’s a natural!


We got good crowds on both Saturday and Sunday. I hope that this leads to future screenings at the Detroit Film Theatre . . . and more 90-Second Newbery entries from the Detroit area!

The fact that this happened at all is due to the enthusiastic advocacy of my old friend Ronica Bhattacharya, who under the name Ronica Dhar wrote a great, highly-praised book called Bijou Roy that St. Martin’s published a few years ago. And the folks who worked at the DFT who actually made the show happen—Emily Bowyer, and Gavin, Jody, Mary, and Lindsay—were so friendly and helpful and a pleasure to work with. Thank you, everyone!

After the show Ronica and I went with another friend to La Rondinella, an amazing restaurant in Detroit’s Eastern Market that’s run by my friend-since-childhood-who-grew-up-across-the-street-from-me David Mancini. The last time I wrote about Dave, back in 2009 (check out the pictures of what we looked like as children, compared to what we’re like now!), it was the one-year anniversary of his pizzeria Supino. Supino is still going strong (and is still some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, along with San Francisco’s Ragazza and Gialina), and La Rondinella blew me away. If you live anywhere near Detroit, you have to go to La Rondinella. The best. Just the best. And the prices are mysteriously, seemingly impossibly low!

It was a great time in Detroit. I always love coming back, seeing family and old friends from high school.

That said, wild horses couldn’t drag me to this year’s 25th high school reunion. I mean, nostalgia has limits.

“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!

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