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The Splendor, Sass, and Stupendousness of the SAN ANTONIO 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

March 10, 2020

I’ve been on the road a lot, but I can’t let another day go by without talking about what an amazing time I had at the San Antonio screening of the 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on February 15!

Just as in the past few yeares, it was held at the Witte Museum, and it was sponsored by the great folks at H-E-B (especially Christa Aldrich) and BiblioTech (especially Laura Cole, Carlos Sauceda, and the rest of her team) and the Hidalgo Foundation (thanks to Judge Nelson Wolff and Tracy Ann Wolff).

This is the sixth year we’ve done the 90-Second Newbery in San Antonio. It’s the city where we get the largest crowds and the most movies, and it’s all because of the incredible team and resources Bibliotech, H-E-B, and the Hidalgo Foundation put together, year after year! Thank you so much. I always love coming to San Antonio.

This year my intrepid co-host was the charming, game-for-anything, dryly hilarious Carolyn Flores (author of the picture book Canta, Rana, Canta and more). She was an absolute pro from the word go, with great comic timing. She pulled off the opening skit and the between-movie banter with verve and style. I don’t have a video yet of it, but I’ll put it up when I get it. In the meantime, here we are:

This year we had just under 600 registered attendees (although I think we had maybe 400 in the audience) and way over 100 Texas submissions. The show kicked off with speeches from the San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (!!) and Hollywood actor Tony Plana. What an honor! The mayor had spoken at the film festival last year too, which was awesome, but this was the first time I’d met Tony Plana. I was too shy to tell him how much I appreciated him in of one of my favorite scenes from the endlessly-quotable 1980s comedy classic The Three Amigos. Tony Plana played Jefe, the second-in-command to the bandit El Guapo, and often in my life I’ve thought of the “Plethora of Pinatas” scene. Below, Tony Plana’s to the left, and Mayor Nirenberg is to the right (with organizers Christa Aldrich and Laura Cole):

Anyway, on to the movies! San Antonio is the only city where I show strictly ONLY locally-made movies, with no ringers brought from out-of-state. And it’s the only screening where we have cash prizes for the schools, libraries, and groups who made the movies, thanks to H-E-B!

The grand-prize-winning movie this year was adapted from the 1972 Honor Book Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles, and it was done by Alinne and Brenda Romero-Torres of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio:

And here is their movie, which is so good I’ve shown it at every screening in all the cities in 2020:

As the judges said in part of the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This is an all-time, gargantuan, demolishing-all-competitors amazing 90-Second Newbery movie . . . Everything about this movie is beautiful: the background music, the turning of the pages as they get whited out to make way for the animated images, the way the pages seem to cut themselves into ribbons and weave themselves together! The spoken narration is beautiful and sensitively done . . . A magnificent achievement!”

Second place for the middle and high school category went to Juárez Elizarraraz of the Advanced Learning Academy for his brilliant and resourceful one-man show version of Avi’s 2003 Medal Winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Here he is with his brother Galileo, who won an honorable mention in the elementary section for his animated movie of Fred Gipson’s 1957 Honor Book Old Yeller. (Juárez also helped out in the opening skit, which I’ll get online as soon as possible!)

Here’s Crispin: The Cross of Lead:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “What a masterful one-man show! The cinematography was crisp throughout, with lots of great closeups and insert shots — and a tour de force in the scenes where the single actor, playing two different roles, ‘fights’ himself! . . . This movie tells the story of the book in a unique, enterprising, and resourceful way!”

And while I’m at it, here’s brother Galileo Elizarraraz’s movie of Old Yeller, also of the Advanced Learning Academy, which won an honorable mention in the elementary category. It’s done in an animated style:

As the review says on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Brilliantly animated! I liked the background music, the clear and witty narration, and the great artistic details like the roaring bear, the glow of love around Shiloh, and the various goofy expressions of the characters. The voiceover was refreshingly irreverent . . . Brisk, enjoyable, entertaining!”

But wait, I skipped the third place winner for high and middle school! It was based on 2018 Newbery Honor Book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, and it’s by Michael and Brandon of Thomas Jefferson High School:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “I loved the charisma and enthusiasm of this . . . The cinematography was crisp and tight and worked well with the narration to tell the story, like when he’s getting a good grade on the test or the girls are cooing over him. I’m totally taken with the satisfied, smug look on the haircut guy’s face, it’s his attitude that makes the movie!”

There was also an honorable mention from the high and middle school category that I want to highlight, and it’s an adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet by Jackson Nettleingham of Katy, TX. Here I am with Jackson when he’s receiving his award:

(Why do you keep making that face, Kennedy? Stop making that face!!)

And here’s his video of Hatchet. (I’m having a hard time embedding it, so you’ll just have to click the link to see it.)

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “The cinematography of this movie is fantastic . . . I appreciated how this movie dispensed with the initial bits about the mother and the plane and dove straight into the meat of the story: how Brian survives against the wilderness! I liked the attention to detail in the camerawork, such as the closeup shot of Brian’s hand as he uses the bow and arrow, or the bird as it falls . . . Minimal and yet tells the whole story. Well done!”

This year, we had a separate category of rankings for movies received from elementary schools. The first place in the elementary category went to this movie of Cece Bell’s 2015 Newbery Honor Book El Deafo, made by Sophia R., Joe C., Miguel M.-G., Zoe V., Danae R., Ivanna H., Camila G., Keily M.-M., Perla R., Santos R., Naimah C., Malakie R., Louis V., Mario O., Julian T., Jesus P., Nathaniel Y. of Price Elementary:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I loved how many parts of this movie were done in the true telenovela style, with lots of amusing overacting and over-the-top melodramatic performances! Doing the whole thing in Spanish (with English captions) put a really fun and unique twist on this video . . . A real joy to watch!”

Second place in the elementary category went to this movie of Jerry Spinelli’s 1991 Newbery Medal Winner Maniac Magee, made by 3rd and 4th Grade of Lamar Elementary Wondercourse Students:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The stop-motion animation in this movie is super impressive . . . I loved in particular the flying tears, the ‘yelling’ lines coming from Maniac’s parents, the way Maniac’s hand snatches a football out of the sky, how Amanda’s book gets ripped in half, and the looming buffalo! . . . I liked how the stop-motion animated figures were all monochromatic black and white . . . The paper cutouts were all done in a compelling style that was simple and clear without being too obvious. This movie rocks!”

Third place for elementary schools went to this movie of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, made by Amara, Ailani, Angel & Eric of Collins Garden Elementary. I was lucky enough to get a picture with them:

And here’s their wonderful movie:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Utterly charming . . . The music selection sets the fun tone beautifully. The voice performances made me believe that Frog and Toad are good friends and are going to have a thoroughly good time whever they are together. The claymation Frog and Toad are nicely done in their simplicity and I like that the movie took an abstract approach with all the scenery and props.”

There were two honorable mentions for the elementary section. I already mentioned the first one, which went to Galileo’s animated version of Old Yeller. The other honorable mention in the elementary category went to this movie of Wanda Gag’s 1929 Newbery Honor Book Millions of Cats, made by Carlos V & Eric U of Madison Elementary:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This was a very impressive use of stop motion! The movements were so fluid! It was an original idea to use Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head to represent the old man and old woman, and the use of pom-pom puffballs for the cats was clever and resourceful . . . I was amused at how the cats ‘fought’ — by throwing the puffballs around crazily!”

There were a lot of other great Texas-made movies featured at the screening, but we don’t have space in this blog post to mention them all! But you should check them out by clicking on them here:


The Year of Billy Miller by My’Ariah S, Mason H, Laila O, Jace B of Miller Elementary (San Antonio, TX)

Bridge to Terabithia by Antonia Dunsmore of Colony Meadows Elementary (Sugarland, TX)

The Book of Boy by India D., Patricio H., Julian N., Sophia R., and Angelica S. of St. Anthony Catholic School (San Antonio, TX)

Frog and Toad Together by Aria, Anabel, Brooke, Alaina, and Viktoria of Young Women’s Leadership Academy Primary (San Antonio, TX)

Hello, Universe by Marely R, Braeson B, Isaiah A, Marely R, Paulina C, Khloe R, Anastasia G, Gizzel F, Makayla A, K’marie A, and Solomon C. of Armstrong Elementary SSAISD (San Antonio, TX)

The Tale of Despereaux by Eloisa B., Alexis E., Arturo P., and Scotty F. of Carvajal ES (GT) (San Antonio, TX)

The Graveyard Book by Eric C., Adelaide H., Israel G., Achilles G., Nyssa D, Layla V., Angelo C., Gracie H., Selin C., Melanie G., and Dayvan C. of Frances M. Rhodes Elementary (San Antonio, TX)

Johnny Tremain by Cecelia Weaver, James McGuyre, Grayson Weekley, Ivana Kovalska, Kat Luna, Alicia Washington, Gabriel Dittfurth, and Ryan Shaw of St. Luke’s Episcopal School (San Antonio, TX)

Millions of Cats by Josephine A., Ian F., Aleksander G., Serenity S., Owen S., and Oliver V. of Hawthorne Academy-2nd Grade GT Students (San Antonio, TX)

The Westing Game by Trinity Episcopal School (Austin, TX)

Thanks so much for a great 90-Second Newbery screening, San Antonio! I’m looking forward to seeing what you make next year—and it’s not too early to start making your movies now! You can find lots of help at the 90-Second Newbery website, especially screenwriting, cinematography, and editing help at our Video Resources page. See you next February!

Oh, and if you like what we’re doing here, please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

The Madness, Majesty, and Mirth of the SAN FRANCISCO 2020 90-Second Newbery!

February 26, 2020

On February 9th, 2020, we screened the ninth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the beautiful San Francisco Public Library! I co-hosted it with the effervescent Marcus Ewert (author of picture books 10,000 Dresses, Mummy Cat, and Mr. Pack Rat Really Wants That). Check out our opening skit above, in which Marcus helps regain my Newbery spirit through a Christmas Carol-esque succession of ghosts, culminating in a rewritten version of “The Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman (and thanks to Caleb for his cameo in the skit!).

This was one of the liveliest, best-attended San Francisco screening we’ve had, with lots of local participation! Thanks so much to the whole team at the SFPL—Jim Jeske, Lyn Davidson, Kenny Avila, Catherine Cormier, Megan Anderson and Meghan Monahan! And thanks so much to my friends Alisha and Sharon for putting me up again, and taking me and my friends out after!

And of course, thanks so much to the young filmmakers, and the teachers, librarians, and family who helped them make their movies. Some of them came onstage after the show, and we had a photo op, or perhaps a murder scene:

At the screening, we showed a mix of movies: some were ringers from all across the country, and some were standout movies made locally. Let’s look at the local Bay Area-made movies!

For instance, here’s an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal Winner The Graveyard Book, done by Sterne School Film Club:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An extremely impressive stop-motion retelling of the first chapter of The Graveyard Book! The cemetery was detailed and elaborate, the animation fluid and full of personality . . . The music and sounds throughout created just the right spooky atmosphere. Bonus points for the fun credits sequence!”

The next movie is of Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2011 Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer, adapted by Ms. Szeto’s Fourth Grade Class of Gordon J. Lau Elementary School:

The judges praised this movie as (full review here), “A fascinating and creative change to the plot of One Crazy Summer: instead of being about three African-American girls visiting their Black-Panther-affiliated mother in 1968 Oakland, California, it’s three Asian-American boys visiting their mother in San Francisco’s Chinatown to rally to free the pandas. Great acting throughout, especially the curt, emotionally withholding mother . . . A fun, creative reimagining of the story.”

Now let’s check out the San Francisco Public Library Afterschool Video Production Club’s movie based on Jerry Spinelli’s 1991 Newbery Medal Winner Maniac Magee:

The judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Engagingly acted, professionally produced, surprisingly meta retelling of the story! I liked the combination of the use of green screen, black box theater, and live exterior locations to tell the story . . . I liked how at a certain point we exited the story entirely to listen in on the kids reading the book and bicker about the best way to adapt it into a movie. A meta move! It was fascinating to see them critique the book (“I don’t buy that. Nobody would do that”) and it was also goofy fun to watch the bloopers at the end during the credits.”

Another great local movie was this adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1990 Newbery Medal Winner Number the Stars, by Carolina, Adolfo and Luis of Dolores Huerta Elementary School:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I liked the casual, breezy energy of this movie . . . The performances were entertaining throughout, but my favorite was that of the most low-key, ridiculously ineffective Nazi of all time (I particularly enjoyed his shrugging mumble of “never mind” when Annemarie lies to him in a totally unconvincing way). A quick sprint through the story!”

Here’s another movie by Dolores Huerta Elementary School. It’s of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Newbery Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia, and it’s adapted by Andrea, Juana and Eylin. The twist? It’s a puppet show, and it’s all in Spanish (turn on the subtitles to read the English translations)!

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was a fun choice to tell the story in the style of a puppet show, and I also thought it was a good choice to include the names of each character on the puppet, to keep everything clear. The curved paper at the end indicating the “bridge” was an ingenious touch. Everyone’s voiceover acting was emotional and expressive, especially when Leslie died. Fun to watch!”

Here’s another version of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal Winner The Graveyard Book, also from Dolores Huerta Elementary School, adapted by Neala and Clementine and Caleb (who was in the opening skit!):

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie got off to a rousing start, with the ominous chirping of crickets giving way to bloodcurdling screams as the Man Jack murders the parents (whose post-murder corpses are gruesomely lingered upon!). The portrayal of Baby Bod was humorous and fun to watch, especially when he drops out of the cradle at the start . . . This movie was very resourceful, for instance repurposing a ‘Wet Floor’ sign to be a gravestone, or how Bod fights off enemies armed with nothing but a milk crate. I liked the hyperacceleration of the plot, how Scarlett is both introduced and dismissed within the same scene! But I wonder, who are those two folks with the backwards hoodies whom Bod defeats at the end??”

The last movie movie I’d like to highlight is of Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery Medal Winner When You Reach Me, adapted by Astral and Defy of Star Stuff Academy:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “A creative, inventive, and visually unique sprint through the story! I liked how the story was told through artfully posed Lego figures (in particular, that Lego man depicting Dick Clark was perfectly chosen). The glitchy old-timey 1980s VHS video effect was a smart choice, situating the viewer in the era of 1979 when the story of the book happened . . . The voice acting throughout was expressive and conveyed the main plot points clearly and with a lot of emotional engagement. I was impressed that you went through the trouble to get the theme music for the $20,000 Pyramid for that scene, complete with crowd noises.”

And those were the local entries for the 2020 San Francisco 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Remember, it’s never too early to start making movies for next year. The deadline is in January 2021, but you can turn them in anytime! Complete details, including tips for filmmakers, can be found at the 90-Second Newbery website.

Thanks so much, San Francisco! I’ll see you next year! And if you enjoyed this FREE film festival, please consider making a donation to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

Our 90-Second Newbery Film Festival kicks off its 2020 season in radiant Rochester, NY!

February 4, 2020

The NINTH season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is underway! We had our premiere screening on February 1 in Rochester, NY at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. There we are onstage with some of the young filmmakers after the screening!

Thanks so much to our longtime Rochester sponsors Delta Airlines, the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library, RIT Magic Spell Studio, Cheshire Audio Visual, and Rochester Community TV for making this possible. Thanks to Johanna Perrin Middle School, Our Lady of Mercy School For Young Women, and Hillel Community Day School for hosting me in the days leading up to the screening.

And thanks especially to Carol White Llewelyn of RCTV and Deb Ross (of our media sponsor, KidsOutAndAbout.com). They’re the ones who really make the wheels turn for the Rochester 90-Second Newbery! And they’re great friends. (Carol’s the one who took all the pictures in this post.)

An extra special thanks to my co-host, legendary author Bruce Coville! It was a privilege to be onstage with him. Our opening skit was all about me losing the Newbery spirit, and then I’m visited by three ghosts, all played by Bruce . . . I think you see where this is going. (I’ll have a video up once I get it, but I wanted to get this post up right away.) And big thanks to Kyle for playing the younger version of me, and Jacyn for playing his friend! The opening skit and the show went better than I could’ve expected, especially since I was still frantically putting the show together late the night before.

The costumes were provided by Stages Theater in Rochester, thanks again to the ever-resourceful Deb Ross. I’m very thankful!

And of course the biggest thanks go to our young filmmakers who actually provided the show! The show featured eight movies created right in the Rochester area (along with six more of this year’s best from around the country). Let’s check out the Rochester movies now!

Eian-Gabriel Sinclair has been making 90-Second Newbery movies for years. Every season I look forward to his elaborate animations and stop-motion masterpieces. Here’s his fifth (!) movie for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, an adaptation of the “Garden” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, in a stop-motion medieval style:

The judges said in part (complete review here): “From the very beginning this movie inspires confidence, with the beautifully drawn titles that even feature animated singing mouths . . . You can really feel the frustration of Toad as he jumps up and down, desperately sings, and flies into a tantrum when the plant won’t grow quickly enough for him. The voice acting is also amazing . . . especially the behind-the-scenes bit at the end, where Frog complains about not getting enough lines — hilarious!”

The RCTV/Writers & Books Camp has also been submitting movies for years. They create theirs in a weeklong summer camp, and not only are the movies always wonderful and idiosyncratic and creative, but everyone always looks like they’re having such a fun time. Check out their version of Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal winner The Crossover:

The review on the 90-Second Newbery website reads (in part), “What a brilliant idea to have this basketball story narrated by two sportscasters! I especially loved how the sportscasters love to drop groan-worthy puns and dad jokes (and how the sportscaster on the right starts to get furious about it) . . . inventive, funny, and yet accurate to the book!”

The second movie made by RCTV/Writers & Books Camp was of Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book The Sign of the Beaver:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “Hilarious and innovative! I love how the Matt character in the book (originally, a Colonial-era boy surviving on his own in a cabin in the wilderness), is here updated to an flashily dressed cool dude, complete with updated slang (“That is so Gucci!”) . . . Great costumes, cinematography, and editing — this movie looks great and the pacing and jokes are tight. Fantastic performances throughout.”

The third movie by the RCTV/Writers & Books Camp is based on Robin McKinley’s 1985 Medal winner The Hero and the Crown:

As the judges wrote in part (full review here), “It was an inspired choice to retell this medieval-style fantasy adventure as a western! The music, costumes, and green-screen sets all worked together splendidly to make it feel authentic . . . I loved the comical details, like the tin-can telephone connected by string, or how certain details from the book (Aerin becoming ill from eating the surka leaves) are transposed into the western idiom (our cowgirl hero becoming ill from some strong moonshine). All the performances were funny and enjoyable, and the script manages to boil down this extremely complex, weirdly structured, very long book into something digestible and understandable.”

Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Fairport did a great twist on Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal winner Holes. They did it in the style of soccer, and it’s called “Goals”:

As the judges said (full review here), “Weird and wonderful . . . instead of prisoners at Camp Green Lake digging holes, it’s a ragtag soccer team kicking goals. The surreal beginning, with the bizarre parents who have decided to make their child into a soccer ball (???), was satisfyingly bonkers . . . All in all, an ingenious re-imagining of the story while still keeping the basic plot. A fun and funny ride!”

The next movie is based on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Medal winner Shiloh, and it’s by Lily, Geoffery, Nicholas, Madison, and Kaci of Kendall Central Schools. Shiloh is one of those iconic boy-and-his-dog books. So how do these kids make their version special? It’s a brilliant move: by shooting the movie from the dog’s perspective! We overhear the Shiloh’s inner thoughts, and see everything from Shiloh’s point of view (you can even see Shiloh’s snout throughout the whole thing):

As the judges said in part (read full review here), “You really made the most of this idea, especially in the scene where Jud ‘kicks’ the dog, and everything shakes and gets woozy in a convincingly jarring way! I also thought it was inventive how you made Shiloh tremble with fear during the fight scene at night . . . Great performances from the other actors too. An ingenious idea, brilliantly implemented!”

As if to answer this boy-and-his-dog story, Rogers Middle School in Rochester did a stop-motion movie of a girl-and-her-dog story, Kate DiCamillo’s 2001 Honor Book Because of Winn-Dixie:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “The cut-paper puppets were wonderfully drawn, with lots of personality and style—and I loved the way they were animated, especially the moving lips when they are speaking! . . . I like how you used pictures from local places for your backgrounds . . . and the inventive touches like the ‘rain’ effect during the storm, or the careful details like the guitar strumming sound effect.”

I have one more movie I’d like to showcase! It’s from Leo Bernabi School, it’s another animal story—but this time it’s not about a dog, but a silverback gorilla. Yes, you guessed it, we’re talking about Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “An energetic, resourceful, and fun retelling of the story! I liked the detailed masks that you made for Ivan the gorilla, the elephants Ruby and Stella, and the dog Bob . . . There were a lot of nice touches and details, like the ‘I have an idea!’ light bulb, or how Ivan works with real paints with his finger, or the way the zookeeper smacks Ruby’s cage with his mace . . . Tells the story with style and humor!”

Thanks again for a wonderful time, Rochester! Thanks also to Heather, Steve, David, and everyone at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, as well as Hipocampo Children’s Books for doing the bookselling afterward.

Remember, it’s never too early to start working on next year’s 90-Second Newbery movie. You can turn it in any time, but the deadline will be January 15, 2021. You have nearly a year to create a real masterpiece for our 2021 screening!

By the way, if you enjoyed the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival this year, please consider kicking a few bucks our way. The 90-Second Newbery is always free to submit and to attend, but it does take money to run. And anyway, it’s tax-deductible! Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

I’ll leave you with this. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank Arthur and Amy, old friends whom I stay with whenever I’m in Rochester. Their hospitality is second to none. One night we went out for sushi and ramen, and we tried to do blind contour drawing of each other’s faces. It came out kind of horrifying . . . and then we tried to contort our faces to look like the drawings . . . and I think some kind of odd synthesis was achieved:

I’m already looking forward to next year, Rochester! You are the bee’s knees.

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