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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newbery: The 21 Balloons (1948)

July 6, 2011

Man oh man, do I have a treat for you today. It’s another entry for the 90-Second Newbery film festival that we’re doing at the New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library this November—a musical version of William Pene du Bois’ The Twenty-One Balloons (1948)! (If you’re having trouble watching it, here’s the direct link to the movie on YouTube.)

It’s done by the brilliant folks at Elephant and Worm, a an educational theater company in Chicago. Elephant and Worm bills themselves as “stories, poems, and ideas created by children are used to create a zany slapsticktackular variety show with no budget for the internet and beyond!”

The Twenty-One Balloons was one of my favorite books. I’m often surprised when I mention it to people; I assumed it was a universal classic and everyone had read it, but I would say only 10% of my friends read it. It’s about Professor William Waterman Sherman, who wants to take a balloon trip across the Pacific Ocean. But he ends up crashing on the island of Krakatoa, and discovers a secret world of whimsical technology, balloon inventions, limitless wealth, and a society of eccentrics with names like “Mr. A,” “Mr. B,” “Mr. C,” etc. down to “Mr. T.” Then the Krakatoan volcano blows up, and only through the ingenious deployment of balloons do they escape before the island is destroyed.

And Elephant and Worm knocks it out of the park! The music and lyrics, by Dan Sherer, are super-catchy (I keep bellowing “Professor William Waterman Sherman, please tell us your story” around the house) the singing is impressive, and the acting is hilarious and I love the ingenuity and attention to detail with the sets, props, and costumes! This is one of the best 90-Second Newbery videos ever. FANTASTIC JOB!