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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival: Bay Area Screenings 2015!

February 12, 2015

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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.

Just got back from a whirlwind visit to beautiful San Francisco and Oakland, California! It’s always great to go there, because I have the privilege of staying with my friends Alisha and Sharon (an amazing chef who owns the must-visit San Francisco restaurants Gialina and Ragazza).

My business in the Bay Area? Last Saturday we did back-to-back screenings of the 4th annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the San Francisco Public Library and the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library.

Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures, but gigantic thanks to Leah of the Rockridge branch, a young girl who stepped in at the last minute to rock it as my co-host there! She was natural, a real pro! Thanks also to Nina Lindsay and Erica Siskind who set up the screening, too. I’m looking forward to lots of entries from Oakland next year.

On the San Francisco side, thanks to Annie Barrows (author of the Ivy and Bean books), who nailed it as my San Francisco co-host. My daughters Lucy and Ingrid are fanatics for the Ivy and Bean books, and I showed a short video to Annie and everyone in which they made their love of those books plain. Annie’s in the lower right picture in the above collage, in between me and Carla Kozak of the San Francisco Public Library—Carla and Christy Estrovitz were the librarians who made the SFPL screening happen, thanks to you both (and thanks for the toffee)! Also thanks to Summer Dawn Laurie and Katherine Megna of Books Inc., who kindly sold books after the show. After a few years of doing this film festival, they’ve become true friends (and Katherine is the one who has a tattoo of a line from my book The Order of Odd-Fish, no joke! How cool is that?!).

Every year we get some great movies from St. Andrews School in Saratoga, and this year was no exception. I featured all the movies they made on this special page, and here’s the one we showed at the festival, of Carl Hiassen’s Hoot:

Great work! We brought the filmmakers Alex and Ankith onstage when we showed this movie, and the crowd gave them the applause and recognition they deserved.

Thank you to all the young filmmakers who made this the best 90-Second Newbery yet. Here’s a montage of all the movies we showed in San Francisco. Looking forward to next year!

Next up on the 90-Second Newbery tour: Portland, Tacoma, Minneapolis, Manhattan, and Brooklyn! Looking to make your free reservation(s) to these screenings? Find all the details here.

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 Newberys from the Center for Talent Development (2014)

February 6, 2015

CTD 2015 90SN collage exp

San Francisco and Oakland! The 90-Second Newbery is coming to you Saturday, February 7, 2015. Make your reservations now! You can find all the information on our Events Page.

For the past two summers, Chicago filmmaker John Fecile and I have taught 5th and 6th graders a 3-week class in making movies for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development Summer Program. I’ve decided not to do it this summer—I need time for writing!—but I’m already kinda starting to regret my decision, because it’s a rollicking three weeks, and some great 90-Second Newbery movies come out of it. (Check out the movies from last year’s CTD 90-Second Newbery class.)

Just as last year, the students were talented, energetic, and committed to making great stuff. It was hectic, but looking back, what fun! The students mostly wrote their own scripts, did most of the camerawork, handled their own acting, and did their own editing! My only hard-and-fast rule: I demanded movies that went beyond merely summarizing the book. I wanted the movies to be produced in some weird or iconic cinematic style that would transform the story.

And boy, did our students (Gavin, Dami, Quinton, Sadie, Sheridan, “Catwoman,” “Bob,” and Elleson) ever deliver! For instance, everyone remembers Beverly Cleary’s 1978 Honor Book Ramona and Her Father. Ramona’s father Mr. Quimby loses his job and gets depressed. Ramona tries to make her father stop smoking. The family’s nerves are strained. The Quimbys do have one nice night carving a pumpkin, but then their cat Picky-Picky devours and ruins the pumpkin in the middle of the night. Mr. Quimby eventually gets a new job.

Straightforward, right? But what if you do all of that . . . in the style of a musical? Take it away, Gavin, Dami, Catwoman, and Bob:

Great work! Gavin’s mustache is immortal, and I love how he dances “the worm” at the end. Everyone really sold the singing, too! No mumbling or shrinking violets here, I love it! The emoting in the scene when they discover Picky-Picky has destroyed the pumpkin is intense, especially with “Bob.” I love how “Catwoman” sells the most depressing takeoff ever on Pharrell’s “Happy”: “Clap along if you feel hopeless even though you’ve tried your best.” And Dami does a great job keeping everything emotionally grounded as Ramona. Great performances and singing all around. This one killed at the Chicago screening!

That’s not the only adaptation of Ramona and Her Father that the CTD did. But how do you answer a musical? By going all the way into the hyperspace of weirdness: by adapting Ramona and Her Father in the style of James Bond!

Wait what?! But when you think about it, it makes sense. What if Ramona’s father was James Bond? And instead of losing his normal job, he was sacked from MI6? And their cat Picky-Picky was actually a secret agent working for Blofeld? And when Ramona feels insecure about her sheep costume at the Christmas pageant, it’s Blofeld who has the better sheep costume? It makes sense: all those punning double entendres that James Bond makes are, at bottom, painful dad-jokes. What if James Bond’s family was as exasperated with him as the Ramona’s family was exasperated with Mr. Quimby?

Take it away Sheridan, Sadie, Elleson, and Quinton in his double role as both Bond and Blofeld:

Of course that’s how would James Bond carve a pumpkin! I love the way the family reacts with perfectly reasonable scorn to all of Bond’s would-be puns and witticisms. The way Sadie delivers “Drive on the right side of the row, we’re in America” is priceless. Picky-Picky explodes with hilarious gratuitousness, and the trick photography in making Quinton fight himself, as he plays both Bond and Blofeld, is ingenious! And of course it’s hilarious the way the whole family deserts him at the end, as he’s too thick to realize what the letter means . . .

So much for Ramona and Her Father. The CTD kids adapted another Newbery classic, Kate DiCamillo’s 2001 Honor Book Because Of Winn-Dixie, which is all about how a newcomer girl to a small town befriends a rambunctious dog she finds tearing through a Winn-Dixie grocery store. She names it Winn-Dixie and adopts it as her own, but the mischievous dog pulls her along on one adventure after another, the effects of which end up bringing the whole town together.

Now, how do you tell that story in a distinctive way? Well, how about instead of doing it from the point of view of Opal . . . doing it from the POV of the dog Winn-Dixie?


I love the way Winn-Dixie ransacks a store! Great work with the “puppy-cam” that includes the nose and paws in as many shots as possible (my wife says it looks like it’s from the POV of Predator). I love “Bob’s” insane scream when she thinks Winn-Dixie is a bear, and “Catwoman’s” eyerolling response to her puns about bears being “unbearable.” I love the way Elleson sells her jar of “peanut butter” (that is clearly a mislabeled jar of pickles). The idea gets pushed all the way through the movie, consistently and ingeniously!

And finally, one more Because of Winn-Dixie—with Winn-Dixie played by Sadie:

I loved the enthusiasm and energy Sadie brought to her role here. Good set-up and payoff with the thunder storm. Everyone’s bringing their acting A-game, from Dami’s sincere Gloria Dump to Sheridan’s plucky Opal to Quinton’s disengaged father. Well done!

Great job, kids of the CTD! I’m looking forward to sharing selections from these videos with everyone at the screenings!

90-Second Newbery Film Festival: Chicago Screening 2015!

February 2, 2015

90-Second Newbery Chicago Collage

BREAKING! The 2015 Newberys have just been announced! The 2015 Newbery Medal goes to Kwane Alexander’s The Crossover. Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Cece Bell’s El Deafo both won Newbery Honors. CONGRATULATIONS to the authors of these great books. I can’t wait to see the 90-second movies of them!

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.

The fourth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival premiered on Sunday, January 25! Just like last year, there was a huge last-minute snowfall, but just as last year, it didn’t keep the crowd away. Take that, weather! We filled up Adventure Stage Chicago and it was a great time.

I was fortunate enough to have the return of my Chicago co-host Keir Graff (author of The Other Felix and an editor at Booklist Online). We did an opening bit in which we postulate the acceleration of our film festival, leading to a 6-Second Newbery Vine Film Festival, and then a 1-Second Newbery Film Festival, which causes a rip in space-time that leads to us hurtling back through time . . . to meet John Newbery himself! WARNING: this involves some dubious singing, dubious dancing, dubious comedy:

This year had another amazing crop of movies. For instance, once again Jennings Mergenthal submitted another incredible stop-motion Claymation video. In the past he’s done Claymation versions of Hendrik Willem van Loon’s 1922 Medal Winner The Story of Mankind (watch) and of Jim Murphy’s 2004 Honor Book An American Plague (watch).

Here, in his best work yet, Jennings digs into yet another historical nonfiction Newbery book—Steve Sheinkin’s 2013 Honor Book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon:

Bonus: the author of Bomb, Steve Sheinkin, somehow found out about the video and featured it on his blog! Fantastic!

Not to be outdone on the stop-motion front, this year also saw the return of Chicago savant Ada Grey, with her stop-motion version of last year’s winner, Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses:

I love the clever way Ada made the squirrel “fly.” And the voiceover performances are great, from the portentous comic-book-narrator voice to the eager Flora to the flat, deadened mother (“Go ahead, it would make my life easier”) to the panicking waitress (“Aah! It’s in my hai-ah! Help meh!”).

This year saw a big influx of movies from Highland Park, Illinois, mostly coming from Ms. Ott’s class. It was a real cornucopia! There were so many videos from her class that I have created a special page to showcase them all here. To get a taste of what Highland Park is cooking, check out Evan Diethrich and friends’ adaptation of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s 1968 Honor Book The Egypt Game:

I loved Evan’s 100% commitment to April’s glamorous style (that wig! those eyelashes!). The older gentleman who played the shop owner was great, and I LOVED LOVED LOVED the horror music and extreme closeup every time he shows up. Evan and friends did a good job showing the Egypt Game ritual itself, complete with the appropriate costumes and accoutrements. And of course the final exchange of dialogue at the end is hilarious. Great work, Evan and friends! (Again, to see everything I got from Highland Park, with my comments, click here.)

So many more videos to share. I’m looking forward to bringing them to Oakland and San Francisco (this upcoming Saturday, February 7!), Tacoma (February 21), Portland (February 22), Minneapolis (February 28), Manhattan (March 7), and Brooklyn (March 8)! Details about screenings, including links to get your FREE reservations, here.

90SN show collage

Thanks to Brandon, Mary-Kate, Laura, and the rest of the good folks at Adventure Stage Chicago; my co-host Keir Graff; John Fecile for filming the opening bit; Chris Norborg for his uncanny portrayal of John Newbery; superlibrarian (and member of the Newbery committee this year!) Eti Berland for rocking the 90-Second Newbery social media; my financial sponsor Northwestern Settlement; and of course the young filmmakers who year after year make the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival into a success!

Before I go, here’s the montage of clips from most of the movies we showed on Saturday, which we used to close the show:

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.

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