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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newberys from Toronto! The Graveyard Book (2009) and When You Reach Me (2010)

August 7, 2011

The entries for our 90-Second Newbery film festival keep rolling in! As I mentioned in my last post, the films will screen at the New York Public Library main branch on November 5, and at the Chicago Public Library Harold Washington branch on November 16. Complete details about our 90-Second Newbery video contest, including how you can participate, here.

These two doozies are courtesy of “Filming in the City,” a two week summer camp run by Word-Play, a Toronto-based community-based non-profit. Word-play works with elementary school children to foster a love of reading and creative writing. It’s run by Rachel Van Harten, Claudia Hebert, Cam Woykin and Kelly O’Brien. From the looks of it, they’re doing a first-rate job!

In this camp, students got to read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and create 90-Second Newbery films for them!

(Yeah, yeah, these two films are both slightly longer than 90 seconds, but we’ll let that slide.)

It was a stroke of brilliance to film The Graveyard Book as an homage to the 1920 German expressionistic silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (What? Dare you second-guess me in this game of Spot-The-Reference? Check out the similarities. Checkmate, old bean!)

Doing it as a silent film is also a canny way to get the right atmosphere―even a sunny day seems dreadfully creepy when shown in black-and-white grainy film. Another advantage: thanks to the intertitles, exposition is handled swiftly and naturally! Great makeup and performances too. For the descent into Ghulheim, it was very resourceful to use that funky backdrop and tilt the camera ninety degrees. A winner!

Neil Gaiman himself already tweeted about it, so it even has the stamp of approval from the man himself!

But wait, that’s not all! The camp also filmed 2010 Newbery winner When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and it’s just as good:

From 1920s German horror to 1970s kitchen-sink realism! Is there nothing this camp can’t do? These kids are natural performers, the filmmakers nailed the understated grittiness of the book, and . . . wait for it . . . Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger”! Wonderful casting, especially the Laughing Man. (I still think The Laughing Man would’ve been a better title for the book than When You Reach Me, but apparently that’s already a Salinger short story.) Also: I also like how two kids are listed in the credits as “bullies and set decorators.” And why is it that the basketball sticks in the net both times Sal makes a basket? Hmmm. Basketball must’ve been very frustrating in the 1970s.

I met Rebecca Stead when she breezed through Chicago back in 2010, and she is actually slated to be part of the between-film entertainment for the 90-Second Newbery film screening in New York. I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do with her yet, but I promise it will be good!

Thanks so much for these wonderful 90-Second Newbery films! The bar is set high!