order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

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Overwhelmed! (and congratulations, Shimmy!)

The energetic, talented Katie Davis has just released an interview with me on her podcast, Brain Burps About Books. We talk about the 90-Second Newbery, Audrey Niffenegger, Odd-Fish, and much else. Plus: my partner-in-crime Betsy Bird reviews the new Francesca Lia Block.

Also: I’ll be chatting tonight (1/20) at 7:30 pm EST at Eve’s Fan Garden in honor of their one-year anniversary. Drop on by!

Wow, I never expected that our announcement of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival would spread so far, so quickly!

A week after we released it into the world, our inaugural film (A Wrinkle in Time in 90 seconds) has been viewed over 70,000 times. The mind reels!

Thanks to everyone who blogged and tweeted about it. I really loved reading the comments:

Boing Boing: “Wow. These kids transformed Madeleine L’Engle into Philip K. Dick so effortlessly!”

io9: “It’s amazing that a bunch of kids with a video camera and no budget can do more in 90 seconds than most of Hollywood can do with months and millions.”

Jezebel: “This is the only thing that has ever made me want to have children.”

Metafilter: “Those same kids should do the entire Dark Tower series in 90 seconds. Somebody get my agent on the phone.”

The Daily What: “Yeah that was like 95 seconds. Better luck next time.”

Thanks also to Time Out Chicago, Booklist, the Onion AV Club, the “GeekDad” blog on Wired.com, GalleyCat, Buzzfeed, the SCBWI national blog, ChicagoNow, Vulture, and too many other bloggers and tweeters to name. With enthusiasm about this contest now spread far and wide (even to New Zealand) I’m sure we’ll have an avalanche of fantastic films.

Even Newbery winners are getting in on the act! Medalist Neil Gaiman graciously tweeted about it (and offered a signed copy of The Graveyard Book for the best 90-second version of it) and Grace Lin rallied her fans to make a 90-second version of her Newbery Honor winner, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

“Wait a second,” you’re saying. “What 90-Second Newbery contest?” Well, if you don’t know about it, you can catch up here.


Speaking of award winners: a couple weeks ago I served as an honorary judge for a fantasy writing contest for the schools of South Bend, Indiana. The grand prize winner? Shimmy Lindow of the Hebrew Day School. I had the privilege of reading an excerpt for this novel-in-progress, War For Defiers, and I loved it. I went to South Bend to meet Shimmy, his classmates, and his parents at his school. You can learn more about Shimmy and his writing at the Michiana Writers Center website. The details of his victory (and the names of the other winners, who also did great work) was also featured in this article in the South Bend Tribune. Congratulations, all! And thank you to Kathy Higgs-Coulthard at the Michiana Writers Center for setting it up, and for taking me out for a delightful lunch with April Pulley Sayre.

It’s shaping up to be a good year!

The 90-SECOND NEWBERY Film Festival


Come to the star-studded 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the main branch of the New York Public Library on November 5, 2011 (3-5 pm)! And at the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago on November 16, 2011 (6-8 pm)! See events sidebar for details.

I am pleased to announce, with the New York Public Library and the Chicago Public Library, the 90-Second Newbery Video Contest!

It’s a film festival curated by me and Betsy Bird of the NYPL and the School Library Journal’s Fuse #8 blog.

The Newbery Medal is the most prestigious award in children’s literature. The American Library Association has awarded it every year since 1922. (This year it went to Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest.)

That’s a lot of Newbery winners. Maybe too many? You can’t read all 90 books! (Well, maybe you can.)

But you do have 90 seconds to spare, right? So here’s our contest, open to anyone: make a video that compresses the story of a Newbery award-winning book into 90 seconds or less.

It turns out that any book, no matter how worthy and somber, becomes pleasingly ludicrous when compressed into 90 seconds. Please watch our very first entry, in the video above: a 90-second version of A Wrinkle in Time (1963).

We’re planning a star-studded 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the main branch of the New York Public Library on November 5, 2011 (3-5 pm). And at the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago on November 16, 2011 (6-8 pm)! Who knows, maybe these events will be as raucous as the fan art gallery show we threw for The Order of Odd-Fish.

Teachers, here’s a fun project that will get your students reading Newbery winners. Students, here’s an excuse to mess around with video equipment. Librarians, here’s an activity to do with your teen advisory boards. Anyone can enter. Everyone wins!

There’s loads of great material among the Newbery winners, ripe for a ridiculously compressed 90-second treatment. The exploding volcano of Krakatoa in The Twenty-One Balloons (1948)! The grotesque hand-burning scene from Johnny Tremain (1944)! The part where they’re hiding on top of museum toilets in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968)!

Newbery Honor books are fair game too. So if you want to do The Cricket in Times Square (1961) or indeed The Story of Appleby Capple (1951), then go for it (Come on, everyone knows the story of Appleby Capple, right? Right?!).

Indeed, this is a good excuse to snoop through old, forgotten Newbery winners. Many of them are unjustly forgotten. Even better: many more are forgotten for a reason. Not naming names, but some Newbery award winners are absolute stinkers, or even slightly offensive! But I have a feeling they’ll become delightful again if accelerated to 90 seconds or less.

In that spirit, we’re particularly excited to see videos that will actively mess with their subjects.

Everyone loves the tender, heartbreaking Bridge to Terabithia (1978), but you know what might make it even better? A 90-second machinima version done with the characters in the video game Halo (Confused? Here’s a Halo machinima version of Hamlet.)

Or how about breaking out the knights-and-dragons Legos for a stop-motion Lego video of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (2008)? Don’t think it can be done? Check out this stop-motion Lego version of the greatest story ever told, Super Mario Bros.

Or even, dare I dream, Charlotte’s Web done in the nightmarish style of David Lynch’s Eraserhead? Sign me up.

If the film is sufficiently ingenious, we might even bend the rules. Okay, I admit it: for years I’ve wanted to see the rodents of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (1972) fight their counterparts in The Tale of Despereaux (2004). Rat-fights make for gripping cinema!

Another title ripe for crossover? When You Reach Me (2010), with its myriad references to A Wrinkle in Time. What happens if we tweak its climax so that the host of “The $20,000 Pyramid” turns out not to be Dick Clark, but IT of Camazotz? Make it so, people.

Look, the American Library Association and I have had our disagreements. Ever since I exposed them as a bloodthirsty cult of obscene troglodytes, I’ve felt a definite chill from them. And it didn’t help when I tackled Neil Gaiman at the ALA conference and wrestled away his Newbery for The Graveyard Book (2009). People can be sensitive! I’m hoping that this “90-Second Newbery” Video Contest will mend fences.

So, the rules in brief:

1. Your video should be 90 seconds or less. (Okay, okay: if it’s three minutes long but absolute genius, we’ll bend the rules for you. But let’s try to keep them short.)

2. Your video has to be about a Newbery award-winning (or Newbery honor-winning) book. Here’s a list of all the winners.

3. Just to be clear: we’re not looking for book trailers. We’re looking for full-on dramatizations, with mostly child actors, that manage to tell the entire story of a book in an ridiculously short amount of time.

4. Your video must condense the plot of the book in 90 seconds or less. Again, exceptions will be made for something really ingeniously bonkers, but it has to be related to a Newbery winning book.

5. Upload your videos to YouTube or Vimeo or whatever and send me the link at kennedyjames [at] gmail [dot] com. Make the subject line be “90 SECOND NEWBERY” and please tell me your name, age, where you’re from, and whatever other comments you’d like to include, including whether you’d like me to link to your personal site. You can give an alias if you want; I understand privacy concerns.

6. Sending the link to me grants me (James Kennedy) the right to post it on my blog and to other websites where I sometimes post content (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and to share at public readings, school visits—and hopefully the “90-Second Newbery” Film Festivals in New York and Chicago in November 2011!

7. Deadline is September 15, 2011. UPDATE: Deadline has been extended to October 17, 2011!


Now go, dust off your beloved copy of Song Of The Pines: A Story of Norwegian Lumbering in Wisconsin by Walter & Marion Havighurst (1950), and make me a movie!

It’s a Girl!

Another DAUGHTER is on the way! What you see above is the ultrasound image of the latest addition to our family. We didn’t know until just recently whether it would be a boy or a girl. But as you can tell from this ultrasound, it’s now totally obvious.

This baby better bring her A-game, though. She’s got a tough act to follow.

Oh, Lucy, Lucy. You’ve had almost two years of our undivided attention (not to mention a hard-to-top birth story that involves a spectacular water-breaking during Scrabble, a Twilight-hating anesthesiologist, and the doctor getting sprayed with a faceful of blood). When your little sister comes, you’re not going to know what hit you. Okay, I’ll stop before I turn into a complete daddy-blogger.

A couple events for those of you in Chicago: my friend Paul Hornschemeier, who is not only a staggeringly talented graphic novelist but also did the cover of the paperback of The Order of Odd-Fish, is featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago called “New Chicago Comics.” Other featured artists are Lilli Carré, Jeffrey Brown, and Anders Nilsen, all of whom have done work I admire, and indeed own. The show runs January 8-30. If you’re in Chicago, go! Heather and I will be at the opening tonight.

Speaking of events this weekend, I’ll be reading this Sunday at Curbside Splendor’s “Two With Water Rx” series at the Beauty Bar (1444 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago) with Sharon Bentley and Leslie Perrine, from 7-9 pm. The Beauty Bar is the kind of place where you can get a manicure while drinking a martini. I will be doing neither, but I will enjoy the scene.

And now here’s another thing that made me very, very happy: some delicious Order of Odd-Fish fan art by Jude Thomas (xtimothyx on DeviantArt)! It’s (from left to right) Ken Kiang, Sefino, Jo, Ian, Colonel Korsakov, and Aunt Lily:

Jude’s style catches so well the goofy, off-kilter style I was going for in the book. I love all the characters he’s drawn here, but the Sefino is definitely my favorite, especially the way he’s holding up a claw in outrage. They all seem touched with manic insanity. I like in particular the way Aunt Lily is waving—not waving to anyone in particular, just waving at empty space, smiling at something she remembered once . . . perfect for her character. And Jo’s wry smirk is bang-on too. I could go on and on!

When I get art like this, I can’t tell you how lucky I feel. To see the characters of Odd-Fish through the prism of an artist’s imagination is a privilege, especially when it’s an artist as good as Jude. THANK YOU, Jude.