order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

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Help out THE TALENT FAMILY in a time of need


An unexpected perk of being an author is the chance to meet a lot of swell folks. I’ve met enthusiastic readers. I’ve met talented young artists. I’ve met first-rate teachers and librarians and other authors and illustrators. I even got to meet my longtime writing hero.

One of the best guys I’ve met since becoming a writer is Aaron Zenz, pictured with his kids here. He’s the author/illustrator of Chuckling Ducklings and The Hiccupotamus and more. He produces an excellent children’s literature blog with four of his six (!!) children called Bookie Woogie.

Here’s the problem. Aaron’s wife Amity is struggling from multiple brain surgeries she had to undergo in the past few weeks. The surgeries were to relieve pressure on her spinal column and brain, but it has caused more pain, blackouts, and nausea. I imagine it’s challenging enough to keep a family of eight (!!) running smoothly in the best of times, but the Zenzes need help now. Friends and family have set up a site, Friends of Zenz, where you can show your support.

I first met Aaron because he submitted a video for our
90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It remains one of the best videos I’ve ever received for the contest, a 90-second retelling of Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, done entirely with shadow-puppets:

(Here’s my original rapturous blog post upon receiving this astonishingly good video, which went on to win a School Library Journal Trailee award.)

But that’s not all. Aaron and his daughter Lily followed this up with a hilarious 90-second Newbery video for Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron:

(Here’s my original very appreciative blog post of this movie. It’s always a crowd favorite whenever I show it at 90-Second Newbery screenings!)

Later on the kids at the Bookie Woogie blog gave The Order of Odd-Fish a glorious review, and the kids all did exquisite fan Odd-Fish art, which you can find below.

This is all to say: Aaron Zenz is that rarest of combinations, an artist and a mensch. The way he draws his kids into his creations is an inspiration to me. I feel lucky to have met him. I fervently hope his wife makes it out of her medical problems happy and healthy again, and that the medical bills aren’t overwhelming.

Again, you can help out the Zenzes at Friends of Zenz here.

Get well soon, Amity!

90-Second Newbery: The Graveyard Book and Hoot

Rochester, New York has found a special place in my heart. I’ve spoken twice at its justly-famous Teen Book Festival (run by the miraculous Stephanie Squicciarini), did a fun interview with Rochesterite-become-friend Dina Strasser on her blog, and made quite a few other friends from there too, including one Debra Ross, who put together this free guide to making a 90-Second Newbery movie (and whose daughters made gave an excellent 90-Second Newbery treatment of Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard).

Now I am proud to feature two more top-notch 90-Second Newbery movies from Rochester! These two are by Justine, Aubrey, Danielle, Emily S., Emily H., Rachel, Nicole, and Jake. The first, above, is of Neil Gaiman’s classic Newbery Medal winner The Graveyard Book. Now of course we all know that Neil Gaiman and I have had our differences over the Newbery, but recall that we did have a public reconciliation in which I sang him Katy Perry’s “Firework” in front of about 1000 people, so I think it’s safe to say it’s all water under the bridge now.

As for this version of Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, what a stunner! It starts with a suitably gruesome murder scene and even uses fun hand-drawn animation to do ghosts. I like the touch of the “Goshgarian” gravestone in the background—that’s a name I’ve got to use in some future book. The accents are quite amusing and I liked the careful attention to detail: when Mrs. Lupescu starts speaking in that Charlie Brown “bwa bwa bwa bwa” adult-nonsense voice, and using the chicken dance for the “Danse Macabre” scene, and the offhanded display of the bowl of “what’s left of” Mrs. Lupescu. The Sleer at the end is a pretty scary surprise, too! I’m looking forward to showing this great version at the screenings!

The same group also did a 90-Second Newbery version of Hoot by Carl Hiassen:

Another winner! It was a nice touch to use the stuffed owl as a narrator. Just like The Graveyard Book, it starts with compelling violence. This movie also features the happiest, most gleeful confession of vandalism. Good use of the Law and Order “bonk-bonk” sound. I also like the way some characters underplay their roles: the guard dog, for instance, seems decidedly unimpressed by the fearsome snakes waved in his face. There’s an odd nod to My Little Pony in one scene—is there actually a My Little Pony reference in the book, or is this a sly sideways reference to bronies? There’s a scene in which someone gets mooned, but don’t worry, according to the credits, “no derrieres were actually exposed nor animals mistreated in the making of this film.” A relief! But that means they had to actually invest in a fake butt? I wonder how many times Spielberg had to do that? Who are we kidding, he probably has a warehouse full of them.

Great work, Rochester! I’m looking forward to meeting you in person when I come to your town in late November!

90-Second Newbery: Robot Quimby, Age 8.235

The New York screening of the Second Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is coming in just six short weeks! And the videos are starting to roll in. I’m enjoying how, in this second year, the participants are becoming more adventuresome in their approach to the material. Everyone remembers Beverly Cleary’s classic Ramona Quimby: Age 8. I’m sure you’ll never forget Robert Carter‘s all-droid take on it, above: Robot Quimby, Age 8.235!

Last year Robert did a great straightforward 90-second version of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me that was a stickler on accurate details: it used archival footage of The $20,000 Pyramid and even made sure to use a first-edition copy of A Wrinkle in Time as a prop.

This time out, Robert played a little looser with the facts. This is the only adaptation of Cleary that I know of that begins with exposition about Skynet. I love how the pesky Willa Jean, who out-Ramonas Ramona in the book, is portrayed here as a huge dinosaur, leading to the wonderful situation of a dinosaur declaring to the robot, “We cannot both be ladies.” The robot playing Ramona does an impeccably deadpan reaction in the infamous “hardboiled egg” scene. At the end, when robots are dressed as singing and dancing cats, the surreal quotient approaches sweet overload. This video is also a must-watch for anyone who wonders what would come out when a robot vomits.

Thank you so much, Robert and Leighton! This is one for the ages!