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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery: Glorious Hodgepodge Edition!

It’s been quiet on the blog as of late, since I’ve been doing a bit of traveling, a bit of school-visiting, a bit of book-writin’, a bit of ruminatin’, a bit of walkin’ the open road, searching for adventure—and yes, searching for a little thing I like to call “America” . . . Wait, what? I’ve just been lazy. That’s all.

In the meantime, while I’ve been away, here’s the LAST few stray entries for the third annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival that wrapped up just a few weeks ago . . . a few movies that, for no good reason, I haven’t featured on the blog yet. They’re good ones too, so let’s check out this glorious hodgepodge!

Chase Elementary in Chicago wowed us last year with their gross-out horror version of Jim Murphy’s American Plague. This year they chose to adapt Steve Sheinkin’s great 2013 Honor Book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Check out the result, above!

From the very first line (“I did it! I split the atom!”) I knew it was going to be good. The music was quite appropriate and I liked the dead-seriousness of the narrator, the Cold War dread, and the repeated motifs of the exchange of documents on staircases and the kids running up and down the halls. (Oh, and I liked especially the neologism in “scientists and spyentists”!)

Next up: any Doctor Who fans out there? I’m sure there are many. OK, any fans of the 1923 Newbery Medal winner The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting? At least a few. Well, Play Mechanics of Chicago wondered, how about combining the two . . . into DOCTOR WHO-LITTLE:

What a delirious sprint through the book! I loved the copious Dr. Who references (“bigger on the inside,” Daleks, the way everyone lurched as the TARDIS rocked from side to side) and the great Matt Smith style of the kid playing the Doctor. And for some reason my favorite part was when . . . the Doctor was very seriously listening to the lobster? All in all, a triumph!

Next up, the Kids Book Club at the Villa Park Library in the suburbs of Chicago did this great take on Richard Peck’s 2001 Medal winner, A Year Down Yonder:

The girl who played Grandma Dowdel nailed it, don’t you think it? I loved the down-home accent, the cantankerousness, the joy she put into the performance! “It’s all right! It’s a Burdick!” “Now go home! Git!” The other performances were great, too. “A Chicago girl? Playing the Virgin Mary!” “We are the D.A.R.” “I studied in Paris!” All very funny. And resourceful use of green screen!

Next up, Beverly Cleary’s 1978 Honor Book Ramona and Her Father by real-life father-daughter team Greg and Jill from Mundelein, IL:

Wonderful! Ramona and her Father is one of my favorite Beverly Cleary books. Not nearly enough people have done a 90-Second Newbery of it. It’s especially fitting that they two did it as a father-and-daughter project! The script was tight and kept the story flowing along smoothly. The pictures were spot-on and really served the story too. I especially appreciated how the script carefully tracked the ups and downs of Ramona and her father’s emotions. Well done!

Some Newbery winners are books of poetry. Hannah & Maegan Scheib from Indianapolis decided to do one of the poems from Joyce Sidman’s 2011 Honor Book Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, in which each poem is about a different nocturnal animal. The poem they chose was in the voice of an eft, which is a kind of newt:

Fantastic! Resourceful and ingenious use of the hot tub, and the romping in the field at night was quite funny (and I liked the acrobatic flip or handspring or whatever that was thrown in there)! Great voiceover reading of the poem too. Thanks, Hannah and Maegan and friends!

And with that, I believe I have covered most of the publicly available 90-Second Newberys I received for the third annual season. Thanks everyone who submitted! Remember, the deadline for the fourth annual 90-Second Newbery is December 20, 2014, so get cracking!

90-Second Newbery: Musical Edition!

Whoops! I got to the end of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival season and realized there were some really good videos that were submitted that I somehow neglected to put on the blog. They’re quality, though, so let’s check them out!

Full disclosure: those kids in that dead-on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” parody version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler above are my niece Amalia and my nephew Domingo. Guitar and singing by my brother-in-law and sister-in-law Chris and Alice. But it’s great, I swear! No nepotism here! If it was terrible, I’d kick them to the curb! I have no loyalty to family, only slavering devotion to the quality of the 90-Second Newbery! The movie sums up the book quickly and wittily, the Dylan impression is pretty good, and c’mon, my niece and nephew are adorable.

I admit it, I do love it when folks do their 90-Second Newberys in musical form. Katie Stringwell’s kids at the Eola Road Branch of the Aurora Public Library in Aurora, Illinois got into the musical spirit of it too, with this version of Louis Sachar’s Holes, in the style of a Charlie Daniels-esque country song:

The Aurora Public Library has submitted great movies in the past, and this one is no exception. According to Katie, the kids filmed this during one of the hottest part of the summer, and you can really tell! I love the decision to tell the story as a ballad. What a great device to convey a lot of narrative information quickly! Not only was the song ace, but I loved the acting: Stanley’s look of trepidation in the first shot, and Kissin’ Kate’s no-nonsense, tough-lookin’ ways. And I liked how they’re freaking out in the background while the treasure chest is being opened. Good lizards, and it’s a nice detail how Stanley and Zero are reading “Diggers”!

Thanks for these musical 90-Second Newberys, guys! Looking forward to seeing what you all make next year! (A Disney musical version of something? A Gregorian chant? A Captain Beefheart-style freakout? A Gilbert-and-Sullivan patter song? An avant-garde droning while a tiny German man sweatily and frantically recites a series of zeroes and ones? ALL OF THE ABOVE?!)

90-Second Newbery Wrap-Up: Thanks, New York!

UPDATE! The School Library Journal just ran a smashing article about the 90-Second Newbery. Read it here!

Thanks all the folks who packed the house last week for the culminating screening of the 2014 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the New York Public Library! Hundreds showed up at the NYPL’s fancypants Bartos Forum, including many of the young filmmakers—not only locals but also from as far away as Rochester, NY and Wayne, PA!

Thanks to the New York Public Library, the Awesome Foundation NYC for funding, NYPL’s Gretchen Kolderup for setting it all up, Rashida Washington for filming it, and last but not least my co-host Libba Bray, who was everything I could wish for in a co-host, a real pro and a hilarious improviser.

Here’s our show intro, in which Libba and I banter about John Newbery, followed by a song-and-dance about the man himself:

(The song is a takeoff of South Park’s “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” with lyrics rewritten by me and Keir Graff, co-host for the 90-Second Newbery Chicago screening.)

We also had some of the filmmakers even come up onstage for short interviews, which was a lot of fun. Here’s the montage we played at the end of the show, showing highlights from all the movies we screened:

Afterwards, conversation, champagne and complicated cocktails at the Peacock with Libba, my wife Heather, and New York friends old and new. What a way to close out this year’s 90-Second Newbery season! Thanks, everyone!

The deadline for the FOURTH 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is December 20, 2014. Never too early to get cracking on it! Complete rules and details here. NOW FLY, MY BEAUTIFUL PRETTIES! MAKE ME MOVIES!