order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery 2016: Minnesota!

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3.09.46 PM

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

On Saturday, February 27 we screened the fifth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Central Library in Minneapolis! It’s the second time we’ve done the show in Minnesota. And just like last year, this is one of the most engaged, enthusiastic, in-it-to-win-it crowds of filmmakers and fans in my 90-Second Newbery tour!

Minnesota author Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy, The Mostly True Story of Jack, Iron-Hearted Violet) joined me again to co-host. Not only is Kelly a firecracker onstage, she also saved the show when we had a technical glitch—while I was frantically rebooting the computer, Kelly gracefully stepped in and did 5-minute improv / standup / consciousness-raising session with the audience. What could’ve been a disaster turned into a highlight of the show!

At the end of the show, we gathered all the filmmakers onstage for a group picture. I’m draped glamorously on the floor in front of them:


At these 90-Second Newbery screenings, I like to show a mix of movies: roughly half are the best I’ve received from all over the country, and half purely local entries. We led off this year’s screening with a movie I’ve shown all over: an adaptation of Virginia Hamilton’s 1989 Newbery Honor Book In The Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, by Tristan Stephan:

As I said in my previous post about this movie, all the puppets are beautifully drawn and intricately articulated, and I particularly loved the hilarious way Odin kicks Ymir’s head straight off! The level of craftsmanship on this one is impressive. I also appreciated that it’s an adaptation of one of the more obscure Newbery honorees. Amazing!

Here’s another great entry from Minneapolis, by Miles, Grace, and Kaden from Worthington Middle School. It’s of Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner, The Tale of Despereaux:

Ambitious, resourceful, and entertaining! I loved how they made Despereaux look small from the very first shot, with that cleverly-deployed green screen of him next to a mouse hole. . . and then followed it up immediately with a really impressive stop-motion animation of the mice in council! I also liked how they used the basement as the “dungeon.” The swordfight was goofy fun, and I liked how cutting off the tail resulted in not screams of pain, but giggles!

Next up: Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet, as adapted by Andrew, Ryan, and Cameron of Inver Grove Heights Middle School:

Very creative to tell the story of Hatchet in the style of a news report, Anchorman-style! It was wonderfully absurd that the the hatchet was clearly a tennis racket. So many great moments in this one, like the stuffed panda bear attacking Brian in the forest, and how the reporter keeps snarling “Gnarly dude!” or “Radical,” and how Brian prefaces every anecdote with the phrase “I remember it just like it was yesterday” before he gazes significantly off into the distance. It was also entertaining how the reporter “signs off” with a mic drop . . . wait, right before he MURDERS BRIAN? This movie is insane in all the right ways.

Here’s another Hatchet, this time by Leo, Jackson, and Galen of Sanford Middle School:

I like the twist of making it a step-by-step “guide to surviving in nature,” complete with disclaimer at the beginning. Good green screen work and voiceover making the different beats of the story clear. Perfect sound effect when he stabs the fish! And it was fun when Brian got mauled (and resourceful use of sound effect there with the bear growl!) I was amused when Brian called out to the passing plane way up in the air, “Look 35,000 feet below!”

Here’s another survival story, but this time about a mouse: William Steig’s 1977 Honor Book Abel’s Island, as adapted by Ruthie Morgan:

Quite resourceful to do the entire story all in one bedroom! It proves how you can do a lot with a little: using the flashing of the lights going on and off to simulate a storm, using blue scarves to represent flying water . . . and those were both cool boats that Abel made!

Here is Lake Middle School’s adaptation of Richard Peck’s 1999 Honor Book A Long Way From Chicago, which is about the various antics of two children and their Grandma Dowdel in the 1930s:

This one starts with a literal BANG, with the awesome special effects of the privy blowing up! I liked the “no unnecessary product placement” sign followed by the blatant display of the McDonald’s bag. The fast-forward effect was used well to get the accelerated oldey-tymey movie effect. The performances of the kids are suitably baffled and the performance of Grandma Dowdel is suitably smug and cantankerous. Great job with music too!

Next up is Highlands Elementary’s adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia:

Goofy and inspired! I loved the “Prince Tarian” dog and I appreciated how the filmmakers actually went outside in the woods to film the Terabithia scenes. Jesse’s family is hilariously perfunctory about Leslie being dead—indeed, his little sister seems to think it’s a “happy ending!”

Next up is the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, as adapted by Josie, James, Erik, Kai, and Madeleine:

Good costumes for Frog and Toad! Actually . . . those masks are a little terrifying! The way they hop about is very frog-and-toad-like, I liked that. And I enjoyed how the birds descend upon the cookies at the end!

Here’s another not-so-well-known Newbery honoree, Sharon Creech’s 2001 Honor Book The Wanderer, as adapted by Anna and Alexia:

Here’s another example of doing a lot with limited resources—I liked how the difference between “Cody” and “Brian” and “Bompi” can be signified by a red or yellow or black shirt. I loved the cardboard boat the SS Awesome, and the juggling bit was fun too, especially with the admission of “sort of” at the end. The expressions after the line “we also know how to draw” bit were good too. Well done!

Angel, Andrew, Armann, and Derrick made this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Medal Winner A Wrinkle in Time:

I liked the creepy outfits of the witches, and the crazy hyperspace effect that took them to Camazotz! When Charles bows down to IT, it’s legitimately unsettling, and I liked IT’s voice. Pretty funny when Meg kicks IT . . . and the disembodied brain splits into two pieces. Cool Star-Trek-style beam-me-up credits!

Next up: E.L. Konigsburg’s 1968 Medal Winner From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Gavin K., Jenny R., and Clark W. of St. Paul Academy and Summit School:

The script was engaging and the acting really pulled me into the story. The quick cutaway when Jamie says he is a gambler is quite funny. I like the montage when they are running away, and the courtly, super-polite exchange “To the library, Lady Claudia? To the library, Sir James!” Funny and committed and believable acting from everyone!

Malaya N., Tylyn H., and Symira H-C. of the FAIR School in Crystal, MN did this take on Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes:

A clever idea to tell the story of Holes as a kind of talk show! Bonus points for how it was the two girls on the right who did all the talking, while the girl on the left said almost nothing! The total commitment they had to the idea of telling the story in terms of a morning show, with the appropriate mannerisms and vocal cadences, was so well done. The high five for Stanley’s bad luck was hilarious. I love how the girl on the right drinks straight from the pitcher. And especially how when the girl on the left finally says something (“It’s like I don’t even know what to say . . . it’s like . . . “) the whole thing just cuts off! The energy and enthusiasm and verve of this short put it over the top.

Here’s a different version of Holes, by Bryce, Brayden, Hunter, and Brody of Oneka Elementary School

This quick, precise narration told the story crisply, not a word wasted! I liked the resourcefulness of the “shovel” made out of construction paper. The green-screen way that Stanley and Zero fall into the hole was clever. I like the dilating “wipe” effect that was consistently used to switch scenes, giving the whole thing a kind of rhythm. Good silent acting all throughout by the students. Great job!

Oh! And before we go, one more Hatchet, by Noah of Glacier Hills Elementary:

Resourceful green-screen work, and I liked especially the part where Brian is attacked by the wild animal!

We also got some great movies from Anwatin Middle School, but they made it such that I can’t embed them on the page. You should check out Britany’s Tale of Despereaux (made with dolls!), and Kjersten’s Ella Enchanted (made with string!) and Meghan and Jenna’s Frog and Toad Together (done with paper cut-outs!).

And of course, here’s the final montage of all the movies. Thanks to all the filmmakers, students, teachers, families, and everyone who attended. Thanks again to Kelly Barnhill for co-hosting and to Jen Verbrugge and Jen Nelson of the Minnesota Department of Education for making it all possible. And thanks to the Central Library in Minneapolis for letting us put it all on. See you next year!

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

90-Second Newbery 2016: Thank you, New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries!

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

It’s been a whirlwind of 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings! I’ve already blogged about our screenings in San Antonio, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco; I haven’t yet recapped Tacoma, Portland, and Minneapolis, but I will soon!

In the meantime: on March 5 and 6 we did back-to-back screenings at the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. At the NYPL I was lucky enough to get the hilarious Peter Lerangis as my co-host, the author of the Seven Wonders series—a series for which the concluding book just dropped (he’s on tour promoting it now)! At the Brooklyn Public Library my co-host was the wonderful Torrey Maldonado, author of Secret Saturdays. They were stellar hosts, and we had huge crowds at both events!

I didn’t manage to get a video of the opening of the Brooklyn show with Torrey, but we did get a video of the opening of the NYPL show with me and Peter, which you can see above. Since this is the fifth year of the 90-Second Newbery, in the opening I show a short movie about the first five years of the film festival—which is interrupted by a time-traveling Peter, who has come back from five years in the future, and has disturbing news of what the 90-Second Newbery is going to become. It all ends with multiple time-travel doublecrossing, a light saber battle, and of course a song! Check out our opening at the New York Public Library above.

And here are Torrey and I with some of the young audience and filmmakers at the Brooklyn Public Library:

x_me with torrey and young filmmakers

Aside from the movies I’m showing all over the country, what locally-made movies did we feature at the New York screenings? Check out Ossining Public Library’s adaptation of Patricia MacLachlan’s 1986 Medal Winner Sarah, Plain and Tall—but done with a twist: in science fiction style! Instead of Sarah being a mail-order bride, she’s a Vulcan! I give you Sarah, Plain and Logical:

What a brilliant idea to do Sarah, Plain and Tall with terraforming space frontiersmen instead of early American settlers! I loved the dialogue (“I mean, it HAS been six hours” and “You should try Spacebook”) and I love how deeply they committed to making the movie look good, with resourceful green screen, elaborate costumes, flying-spaceship scenes, original music, and even a “Spacebook” page made specifically for the movie! The idea of having Sarah be a Spock-like Vulcan was inspired, and I love that she has a literal PET ROCK. When they’re all singing along in Vulcan at the end, with a montage of fun activities, all of which have “Sprock” the pet rock floating weirdly in the background, I just about lost it. Brilliant work, Ossining Public Library! (And check it out—I myself have a cameo as Admiral Ackbar at the beginning!)

Next up, Lois Lowry’s 1990 Medal Winner Number the Stars, as made by Juliet and Leah:

What a breakneck ride through Number the Stars! Whoever was playing the Nazis really tore into their role with gusto. It hits all the major plot points in the book with brisk clarity, especially the trick with the funeral . . . and this probably the first mention of cocaine in 90-Second Newbery history. Great job, Juliet and Leah!

Every year we get a bunch of super 90-Second Newbery videos from Jim Adams’ class at the Foote School in New Haven, CT. Here’s the one I featured at the NYPL screening: Jasmine, Jillian, and Nick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Medal Winner The Graveyard Book:

A really funny script! “Don’t tell the girl, but I’m actually gonna kill her friend!” and “I will never see you again. You should cry now” were ace lines. I like that the filmmakers took the time to get gravestones for the set. Fun Sleer scene too!

Last year and this year too we got submissions from the talented Parrino family who live outside New York. This first one, by Jillian Parrino, has a great twist: it’s Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted done in the style of Star Wars!

What a bonkers, inspired idea! I love how it nails all the details specific to Star Wars, from the John Williams music and opening crawl to the resourceful use of modified cut-outs of the characters like Captain Phasma, Princess Leia, the stormtroopers, Rey, Finn, Jabba the Hutt, etc. in various environments. Funny use of the Jedi mind trick on the ogres, I mean, Jabba! And we even got a light saber duel at the end, inside Ella’s mind, against Kylo Ren! Fantastic work!

But that’s not all we got from the Parrino family. Joseph Parrino did this elaborate stop-motion Lego version of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s 1968 Honor Book The Egypt Game:

A very thorough and complete retelling of the story! The sets were really well done (the inside of the junk shop! the junkyard in back!) The story was briskly and clearly told. The way Toby and Ken come down the fence head-first was kind of hilarious! And good background music throughout.

But wait! We have another stop-motion Lego movie! This one is by Violet and Ocean of the Brooklyn Public Library, Carroll Gardens branch, and it’s of Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot:

The animation looks fantastic, so detailed and fluid. And the sound effects and voiceover acting really pulled it all together! I especially liked it when the owl comes zooming by in the construction site. And I thought it was funny how the alligator in the toilet was HUGE (and . . . mooed!). The protest was a great scene, so elaborate and well-done, with lots of jump cuts between the protestors giving an appropriately chaotic impression! (And I liked the chants of “We love owls! We hate pancakes!” and the picket sign that suggested she take the pancake house to Russia). It was clever the way they made the hero “swim” at the end. And I always enjoy a great homemade song over the closing credits.

Here I am with the makers of Hoot, Violet and Ocean, with their facilitator Jodi from the Carroll Gardens branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Check out their Hoot-themed T-shirts they wore especially for the event:

x_me with violet and ocean and jodi in brooklyn

We also featured Ruth Sawyer’s 1937 Medal Winner Roller Skates, as adapted by Mohana Buckley, a super-talented girl who has contributed a movie almost every year of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, and Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes as adapted by the folks at Camp Mel. However, both those videos are private or not shared online . . . so if you weren’t at the screening, I’m afraid you’re out of luck!

x_torrey and i onstage

Thanks to Peter Lerangis and Torrey Maldonado for co-hosting, Anna Taylor and everyone at the New York Public Library, Paquita Campoverde and Brandon Graham and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library, and of course all the filmmakers and friends and family who made movies and came out to the screenings! Here’s the closing montage we used to end the NYPL show, of all the movies we showed in New York and Brooklyn:

Thanks again! See you next year!

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

90-Second Newbery 2016: Thank you, San Francisco and Oakland!

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

On February 13 we did TWO 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings: at the Oakland Public Library Rockridge Branch (thanks, librarians Nina Lindsay and Erica Siskind!), and later at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library (thanks, librarians Christine Estrovitz and Carla Kozak!). We packed the house in both venues. Books Inc. was on hand to sell books after the SFPL screening (thanks, booksellers Summer Laurie and Katherine Megna!) And a super big thanks to the San Francisco Awesome Foundation for helping to sponsor the trip!

As always when I come to San Francisco, I had the pleasure of staying with my old friends Alisha and Sharon. Alisha is my good friend from college, and she married the amazing Sharon, who is (among many other things) the culinary mastermind behind the SF restaurants Gialina and Ragazza. Thus, whenever I go to San Francisco, not only do I get the pleasure of their company . . . but I eat like a king! And Alisha and Sharon are generous enough to throw a big party after the SFPL screening, and I get to see lots of my Bay Area friends:

Sharon’s to the left of me, Alisha’s to the right of me!

I also got to catch up with my friends David and Jillian, who used to live upstairs from me in Chicago, but have abandoned Chicago for the pleasures of California (David fled west to take a job at the Khan Academy):


I hung out with so many other old friends while in town, too many to name. (I might have more friends in the Bay Area than I do in Chicago?) I’m very lucky to know such great people.

But let’s talk about those 90-Second Newbery screenings! My co-host for the San Francisco screening was Marcus Ewert, the amazing author of the picture books 10,000 Dresses and Mummy Cat, both well-reviewed by my Lucy and Ingrid. He was a fantastic co-host, nailing the opening song-and-dance number and bantering with easy grace between movies. Unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of the video of our opening bit, but trust me, it was great! Marcus said he’d do it next year, too, and I hope he does. Thank you, Marcus!

We got a lot of great entries from the Bay Area this year! One of the standouts that we featured at the screening was E.L. Konigsburg’s 1968 Honor Book Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, by Ellie, Zara, Katie, and Grace of Everett Middle School (which I visited while I was in town!):

Such crisp and nimble cinematography! The transitions with the typewriter and the music tied everything together very well and gave a structure to it. And the acting! Jennifer the witch had a compellingly stern aspect to her (I love the way the camera edged in ominously to a closeup on her!) and Elizabeth had a cool, game-but-skeptically-standoffish vibe that was very appealing. And the last sequence, when we finally see Jennifer smile and the black-and-white blooms into full color, was a really effective way to conclude it.

But that’s not the only great movie I got from San Francisco this year! Felix and Taytum also made this great adaptation of Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain, but with a twist:

I love it when young filmmakers use the 90-Second Newberys to tell the book’s story in a different way. In the same way that Sam in the book uses his knowledge of nature to survive in the wilderness, this Sam here uses his technical skills to fly off into a whole new dimension. So many precise little insert shots of specific technical challenges he’s solving, like the shimmering jewel on the shoes and the spaceman suit and backpack. Then the whole thing kicks into overdrive when he flies! I love the space scenes best. And after that, going from super technical to back to the nature was a good touch, and the music was well-chosen. Watch out for the splendid stop-motion when the animal comes out of the hole!

I did author visits at a bunch of schools when I came to the Bay Area this year, including St. Andrews School in Saratoga. Every year I get a bunch of great 90-Second Newberys from this school, led by their great teacher Alison Halla. For instance, here’s St. Andrews’ adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s book-in-verse about basketball, The Crossover, as adapted by Abby, Amelia, and Georgia:

What a clever idea to do an all-female version of The Crossover! I thought it was a brilliant story change to make Alexis not just some random hottie, but another player on the team. The story actually works better with the change! There are some great vomiting and bloody-nose scenes. The snotty librarian was hilarious. The kissing-in-the-library scene was expertly staged. And the furiously-playing-basketball-in-the-rain scene was a masterstroke, especially when it cut from J.B.’s and Alexis’ dinner to Filthy screaming in frustrated rage in the rain.

That’s not all I got from St. Andrews. There was also Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia, as adapted by Jack, David, Jarrett, and Scotch:

Oh, how I love insane versions of this book. Leslie’s death never fails to get a laugh! Her hat was the perfect amount of absurdity, and I liked lines like “I wonder what to get Leslie for Christmas. Oooh, free dogs!” Good background music throughout, rising to an inspiring crescendo when Jesse and Leslie invent Terabithia! But my favorite thing about this movie is how Jessie brings his little sister into Terabithia to make her “the new queen” . . . when Leslie’s body is not yet cold . . . when she’s still dead in the background!

Finally from St. Andrews, Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted by Claire, Juliet, Brian, and friends:

So many funny lines, so crisply shot, the story told so well! I was blown away by the comedic acting of Lucinda and Ella. Lucinda’s entrance with the ukelele singing “story of my life” cracked me up, and I loved how Lucinda kept telling the prince she was “single, very single.” The ball scene had a great updated song, and those dogs make fantastic ogres!

And finally from San Francisco, this adaptation of Kate Dicamillo’s 2004 Medal winner The Tale of Desperaux by Omara, Karina, and Lilah of Monroe Elementary School:

Fun and fast on its feet! I liked that first scene in which the rat is expertly thrown into the soup bowl from far away, and the perfunctory way the queen “dies” when the rat plops into her soup is also pretty funny. The story was told with rapid skill, with resourceful use of props and costumes (Roscuro’s hands!). And the whole thing wrapped up quite satisfyingly with that flourish at the end.

But wait! That’s not the only 90-Second Newbery screening we had that day. There was also the one in Oakland, co-hosted by me and Liam Dooley, a twelve-year-old resident of Oakland and the son of my old friend Andrea. Here’s a great write-up about it in the Oakland North, in which I am described (not for the first time) as “between his wardrobe choices and excited mannerisms, [James] had the familiar air of Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter film adaptations.” I am who I am!

Wait, you say—why was Liam my co-host? Isn’t my co-host usually another children’s author? Ah, but in this case Liam had made two standout 90-Second Newbery movies, which we featured at the Oakland screening. When I asked if he would co-host, he accepted!

Here is Liam, Eamon, and Quinn’s 90-Second Newbery of Hatchet:

This movie made resourceful use of a real-life airplane cockpit, with the staticky authentic-sounding radio messages in the background! And I liked the model plane floating above the pond to give us the idea of the a real plane flying over water. Good “crash” too—and cutting straight from that to Brian trudging out of the water was a smart choice. The bow-and-arrow also looks like it was really cobbled together in the wild, and that fish — was that an ACTUAL DEAD FISH that “Brian” was holding and pretending to eat? Liam says yes!

He also did Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal winner The Giver with his friend Thomas:

I liked the no-nonsense way this movie blew through the plot, with brisk voiceover. It got some good effects with the switching between black and white and color after Jonas steals the apple. That’s a good wig for the “sister,” and I love how The Giver looks like . . . wait, is that Kevin Kline from “A Fish Called Wanda”? Even with that, still, the best part for me is how Liam wraps up the whole movie by flatly declaring, “and he died on a mountain.” Yup, Jonas probably did!

Thanks for these movies, and for all the movies that were featured in the San Francisco and Oakland screenings of the 90-Second Newbery this year! And thanks to everyone who came out to the screenings. And thanks to the filmmakers who made the movies, and the libraries and teachers and families and friends that made it all possible. Here’s to next year!

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.