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The Order of Oddfish

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

March 1, 2016


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):

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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.