order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


Daughter Update, plus 90-Second Newbery: The Whipping Boy and Lukancic Middle School

DAUGHTER UPDATE. This is my daughter Lucy. She’s two and a half. “I drew a sad ghost,” she said one day. That’s a pretty expressive sad ghost! Heck, I can’t even draw that well, and I’m thirty-eight!

Here’s Lucy with her little sister Ingrid. Lucy looks a little skeptical of the new arrival.

I’ve been very busy lately, so I haven’t seen Lucy and Ingrid as much as I’d like. I need to catch up! I went off to Michigan alone to my twenty-year high school reunion, and also spent a couple days in Washington, D.C. to speak at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit. Met up with lots of great librarians (Joyce Valenza! Shannon Miller! Paula Wiley! John Schumacher! Melissa Jacobs Israel! Laura Warren Gross! Too many to name them all) and other authors (I finally got to meet Laurel Snyder and Erica Perl) and . . .

Wait! Why was I speaking at this conference? Why, the 90-Second Newbery film festival, of course (New York on November 5, Chicago on November 16; complete details here). And in that spirit, let’s check out a couple recent entries I’ve received.

This one is The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman! It’s from the Ossining Public Library 90 Second Newbery video club in Ossining, New York.

They asked if I’d like to do a cameo in it. I said sure! They told me what to say, so I shot my part, emailed them the video file, and they edited it in. See if you can find me in this one. They told me wear a “medieval costume”; I couldn’t find one, so I cobbled together stuff from a costume chest. I look like a lifestyle-confused art teacher from 1982:

Superbo! The team at Ossining really did a great job of compressing the plot, and the costumes and staging were quite deft. (I like the use of swimming noodles as whips!) The kids who made this will actually be attending the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in New York City on November 5. We’ll give them a stars’ welcome! (Need details on the screening? They’re all here.)

A couple months ago, I also received from Lukancic Middle School of Romeoville, IL a bunch of great 90-Second Newbery videos. There are too many to put in one post, so I made a whole page of Lukancic Middle School 90-Second Newbery films here. Just to give you a taste, though, here is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, as interpreted by Elizabeth:

These films are getting more and more surreal! This one suddenly transforms into Twilight for some reason at around 1:47, quite entertainingly. I also liked when Pa was starting his story: “Once, when I was a boy, I ran away and I got on a ship for Singapore and . . . ” and the kid just blurts “OK, Pa,” gets up and leaves. The hopeless last line (“We’re going to force you to stop living in your tree and build a house where you’re going to live and there’s nothing you can do about it until you’re 18!” “Aw, man!”) is bleakly funny as well. Well done!

You can see the rest of the videos from Lukancic Middle School here. Thank you so much for all your hard work and talent!

90-Second Newbery, New Zealand Edition: A Single Shard (2002) and A Bridge to Terabithia (1978)

CHICAGOANS: I’m one of the “celebrity judges” at the Book Cellar’s Adult Spelling Bee tonight. Other guest judges: The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer, Kelsie Huff of The Kates, and Chicago Tribune Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor. 7 pm.

OK, America, you’re on notice.

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival has been an international film festival ever since we got those great Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me, and Savvy films from Toronto. BUT NOW THE FESTIVAL IS INTERCONTINENTAL.

Today, I bring you two extremely well-made 90-second Newbery films from NEW ZEALAND. From Mt. Eden Normal Primary School, in Auckland, to be precise. All made using a “Sony standard 8 video camera and an elderly iMac,” according to their director, Bruce Sandford. Check out the first video above, of 2002 Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park!

The story is set in 12th century Korea, and they really make it work as a historical drama: traditional costumes, Hangul writing, and props, with good acting (even credible crying!) and crisp, fast storytelling. I loved the irascible master potter Min and the heroic boy Tree-ear (here played by a girl). Even the scene with the bandits was well-done, with jagged, disoriented camera work. The Kiwi accents make it a refreshing treat, too . . . Sometimes, when I hear how they speak English in other countries, I can’t help but feel that we Americans, and Chicagoans in particular, sound like geese.

But Mt. Eden Normal Primary School is just getting started. Here is their deft, sensitive A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:

These New Zealand submissions have raised the bar for this film festival! This is just satisfying, solid filmmaking. And the unfussy magic realism of the angelic “Terabithians” in the trees at the end was a masterstroke. I really enjoyed both of these films.

As it happens, when I was in high school, I had a pen pal from New Zealand whose last name was Sandford, just like the director of these movies. I know it’s a long shot, but I wonder if he’s related to her . . . ? I asked Bruce in an email but I haven’t heard back yet. What a strange coincidence it would be if he somehow knew her! I haven’t communicated with her since, like, 1989.

90-Second Newbery: The Graveyard Book, Charlotte’s Web, and When You Reach Me

FELLOW CHICAGOANS! Can you spell? Friday, September 16, I’m one of the “celebrity judges” at the Book Cellar’s Adult Spelling Bee! Other guest judges: The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer and Chicago Tribune Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor. Guest host Kelsie Huff from the Book Cellar’s house comedy team, The Kates. Prizes for some, fun for all. 7 pm.

The 90-Second Newbery film festival! It’s coming in November! I knew I’d receive many brilliant 90-second films of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I’d thought that the black-and-white, silent-movie-style Graveyard Book done by kids in Toronto would be impossible to match, but check out the movie above. It’s just as impressive!

This gorgeous animated Graveyard Book is by “Ignis Draco,” a thirteen-year-old from Andover, MN. It’s a Terry Gilliam-esque romp done in a shadow puppet style, and cleverly retells The Graveyard Book in terms of its source, The Jungle Book. It’s funny throughout, the animation is ingenious, and wait till you see what happens to poor Mr. Gaiman’s head during the credits. I barked, positively barked, with mirth. I appreciated the sly references to the fact that all of Neil Gaiman’s books are written by bees (a revelation that I first announced here and confronted Neil Gaiman with in person here). Ignis manages to hit most of the significant high points of the book with verve and style: the plot-points-on-a-moving-train idea is inspired, and the narration is delightfully droll. I loved it! Thank you, Ignis Draco!

Next up, from the 5th-8th graders at the Bainbridge Island Public LibraryCharlottes’s Web:

Compelling performances, cute costumes, charming sets! (And we even get puppetry! A goose, a spider . . . ) I loved how gleeful Mr. Arable is about killing Wilbur at the beginning. Forceful acting! The Wilbur is an adorable performance, too. So is Templeton, Charlotte, Fern, everyone―and kudos to Charley and Max for the piano music. And of course I’m not forgetting Olivia and Max’s deft editing. A winner all around! The youth services librarian, Carmine Rau, said that they did it all in less than 9 hours: arguing over which book to choose, writing the script, gathering props and costumes, and shooting and editing the film (“an hour of work for every ten seconds of film,” said one of the boys). Well done, and thank you Bainbridge!

And finally, we have another great version of When You Reach Me―this time by a kids’ video class taught by Robert Carter at the Library of the Chathams, New Jersey:

This delirious sprint was actually condensed from an 12-minute version of When You Reach Me that the same class made. I like how the story is broken up with scenes of the “$20,000 Pyramid” practice, and using archival footage of the gameshow was a masterstroke (in the extended version, we even get to see a young David Letterman on the show)! They got the details right: using a first-edition of A Wrinkle in Time as a prop, and giving the discussion of the time-travel paradox the full treatment it deserves. All the actors were talented and convincing, even with their voices sped up. (Speeding up the dialogue is a technique I’m surprised more people haven’t done in these 90-second movies.) Superior!

Thank you so much, Ignis Draco, Bainbridge Island Public Library, and Library of the Chathams!

For the perplexed, here’s the complete info about the 90-Second Newbery film festival, including our November 5 screening at the New York Public Library and our November 16 screening at the Harold Washington library in Chicago.