order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival: Tacoma and Portland Screenings 2015!

March 3, 2015

Tacoma 2015 screening shots EXPORTED

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.

We had two more fantastic 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings in Tacoma and in the Portland area on February 21-22, 2015! Thanks so much to Sara Sunshine Holloway for arranging the screening at the Tacoma Public Library—complete with red-carpet walk, popcorn, paparazzi, and specially-made Oscar-like prize statuettes for participants!—and Violeta Garza and Coi Vu for organizing the screening at the Troutdale branch of the Multnomah County Public Library near Portland.

And extra special huge thanks for my co-hosts, Doug Mackey in Tacoma and Jacob von Borg in Portland! Doug Mackey was my co-host last year in Tacoma, and the young Jacob von Borg was my co-host in Portland—you may remember Jacob from the many great 90-Second Newbery movies he’s made over the past few years, as well as the cornucopia of Order of Odd-Fish fan art he and his sisters have created as well. Add to that list: excellent co-host! I need to hire this kid full-time!

I thought I’d take the opportunity in this post to feature some of the movies I received from Tacoma and Portland this year.

tacoma movies collage 2015 EXPORTED

Almost every year we’ve received a fantastic Claymation 90-Second Newbery from Jennings Mergenthal of Tacoma. First he sent us a breakneck-paced Claymation version of The Story of Mankind, the second year he sent us a hilarious and educational Claymation version of An American Plague, and this year here’s a super-impressive Claymation version of Steve Sheinkin’s 2013 Newbery Honor Book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Take it away, Jennings:

Every year Jennings finds a way to top himself: I’m amazed at how much facial emotion and human expression he can wring out just a few bits of clay. The script is hilarious and impeccably tells the story, efficiently zooming through the book and still giving us a good idea what it’s all about. And so many hilarious little grace notes—”It’s just Einstein’s house, how hard can it be to find?”, the newspaper headline “NAZIS INVADE POLAND—we should do something”, Fermi’s line when “Stand back or something” followed by “should we be wearing some kind of protection?” and “We’ll be fine.” My personal favorite moment might be Stalin picking up the phone and saying “Hurry up with my bomb,” followed by Truman tearing his newspaper in half. And perfectly-chosen Tom Lehrer song for the end!

Another great regular contributor from Tacoma is a young man named Parker, who in the past provided us this dizzying, hallucinatory, hilarious version of William Bowen’s 1922 Honor Book The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell a Little Boy in Search of Adventure. Do yourself a favor and go watch it, and then come back and check out his follow-up, also of an older book: Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s 1928 Medal Winner Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon. It’s the story of an Indian pigeon, so Parker had the great idea to adapt it . . . in the style of a Bollywood musical:

Just as with The Olde Tobacco Shop, Parker has done some resourceful and ingenious green screen work. The costumes were ace, too, from the saris and feathers to the WWI army uniforms—I love the attention to detail (extra points for that cool nest). I had to laugh at the feathers fluttering down indicating his parents’ untimely fates, and the “not these llamas!” line was cute. Great flying and war scenes, and the Bollywood song and dance at the end was icing on the cake.

Next up: Jean Craighead George’s 1973 Newbery Medal winner Julie of the Wolves. Tacoma wolves were probably too busy to participate, so filmmaker Rosemary Sissel used the next best thing . . . Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Julie of the Cows:

I love it when these films have a unique take on the material, and Julie’s is so creative and resourceful—I guess it’s safe to say that cows are easier to wrangle than wolves for filmmaking. The shots are well composed, the voiceover is effective and pushes the story forward with admirable speed. I chuckled at the part where Julie sighed “I’m so hungry I could eat anything,” followed by her chasing a frightened chicken. The pan left reveal of the cow was funny too, as well as “My cow became a hamburger!” and Julie’s reaction when she finds her father eating beef. Smart take on the story!

Now as it turns out, Tacoma, Washington has a special place in Newbery history, for Tacoma is the setting of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan. The book is based on the true story of a silverback gorilla who spent 27 years in a shopping mall zoo in Tacoma and finally made his way to the Atlanta Zoo. The Tacoma Public Library Storylab (Jaek Andersen, Duncan Killion, Sebastian Killion, Zavier Killion, Shawn Newbauer, Jordan, and Trey Brown) decided to tell the story with a twist—using Minecraft! (Last year Tacoma Storylab gave the same Minecraft treatment to Wanda Gag’s 1929 Honor Book Millions of Cats):

Really good job representing the various animals, and the voiceover narration was rock-solid. The comic timing was on-point too: I especially liked the running joke of Ivan grousing, “It’s not a cage, it’s a domain” and the delivery of the line “I am a dog of uncertain heritage.” It was impressive when we got to zoom out of the mall and see outside, and I loved the exhilarating swoop when the camera is whirling around while they’re arguing.

Next up, Jack Gantos’ 2012 Newbery Medal Winner Dead End in Norvelt, as adapted by Sam Ledford:

I like how quickly and efficiently Sam rips through all the relevant plot points of the story. Nice musical flourishes, and I was amused by the Charlie-Brown wah-wah-wah on the phone. (And I loved the ominous glimpse of the murderer under the table . . . )

And finally from Tacoma, Coco, Simone, and Dori adapted Elizabeth George Speare’s 1959 Medal Winner The Witch of Blackbird Pond . . . all using paper cut-out dolls:

An ingenious idea to do it with those beautiful paper cut-outs. The voice-over work expressed the story very well, and I liked how neatly the ending wrapped up with the beginning. Great work!

And for the penultimate video in this long, long post, let’s watch the Troutdale library’s Teen Council’s version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler:

Smart move to use Frankweiler’s voiceover narration to push the story along (great accent too!). Resourceful use of sped-up footage in the library to give that feeling of frantic searching. Good variation of shots, from the zoom-in on the sign of “Metropolitan Museum of Art,” to the crowd milling around the Michaelangelo statue, to the tight shot in the stacks while searching. These Teen Council blew through the story with admirable efficiency, nailing all the relevant plot points like pros. Another great movie!

Thanks so much for all the movies and for coming to the screenings, Tacoma and Portland area! See you next year. (And remember, it’s never too early to start working on next year’s movie . . . all the rules and details can be found here.)

We’ll close it out with the closing montage for Tacoma’s screening:

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 Film Festival: Bay Area Screenings 2015!

February 12, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 12.11.37 AM

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!

Newer Posts - Older Posts