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The Order of Oddfish


The 90-Second Newbery screenings in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah were a blast!

February 19, 2019

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.

Last year (2018) I was blown away by the warm welcome we got when we introduced the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival to Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah. I was delighted to return to Utah this year too, to honor some great local kid-made movies!

Last Friday and Saturday I was joined at the 2019 Utah screenings by longtime co-host and author Keir Graff (The Phantom Tower, The Matchstick Castle). Just like last year, even a big snowstorm didn’t stop lots of folks from attending the shows!

Below, check out the video of Keir and I doing the opening skit and song-and-dance at the Treehouse Museum in Ogden. The premise? The 90-Second Newbery has offended the honor of the HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL, composed of Newbery all-stars Kate Dicamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and . . . Meindert Dejong? Wait, you don’t know who Meindert Dejong is? The man who has won more Newberys than anyone? Then this skit is for you, especially if you like goofy floating heads, swordplay, and Les Miserables:

Thanks to Natalie for co-starring with us! I like this recording because, since the Treehouse Museum’s theater is a more intimate venue, we were able to get better audio than at most other shows. Indeed, the Treehouse Museum is an amazing place! It’s especially great for making 90-Second Newbery movies, because of all the kid-friendly exhibits and environments they have (a medieval castle, a farm, a diner, a fire station, a Presidential Oval Office, rooms from Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Kenya . . . and so much more!) AND they have tons of play costumes there too.

So Wes Whitby and Hannah Callaway of the Treehouse Museum rounded up OVER A HUNDRED CHILDREN and made this great adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s 1966 Honor Book The Black Cauldron. It was shot in the style of a silent movie, and it retells this medieval fantasy in the style of an Old West adventure! Prince Gwydion becomes Sherriff Gwydion, the evil Huntsmen of Annuvin become a gang of low-down bandits, and the Black Cauldron itself is transformed into a legendary black train, the “fastest in the west”!

As the reviewers on the 90-Second Newbery said, “This is fantastic! . . . The sped-up footage, frenetic piano music, and old-timey-looking film filter make this really seem like a silent movies from bygone days . . . This movie worked because of the expressive, over-the-top silent-film acting of all the various characters.” You can read the full review here.

The next movie, also from Ogden, is one of the most distinctive and impressive 90-Second Newbery movies I’ve seen. It’s by Tanner Goethals, and it’s an adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1987 Medal Winner The Whipping Boy, done entirely in computer animation. But no ordinary animation! This was made using Microsoft 3D Movie Maker (here’s a strangely creepy TV commercial for it), which is software from waaaaaaaay back in, like, the Clinton administration. For those of you scoring along at home, that means this 1980s book has been redone with 1990s graphics for a film festival in the 2000s. I LOVE THIS. THIS IS WHAT THE 90-SECOND NEWBERY IS ABOUT, PEOPLE!

As the judges said, “This movie was amazing! I’ve never had this animation style used in a 90-Second Newbery before, and I loved it . . . elaborately animated, impressively detailed, and the 90s-obsolete style was fresh and compelling! The script was witty and tight and had an appropriately sarcastic tone (‘And they will never do bad stuff again’), zipping through the story at breakneck speed . . . My favorite part was when the giant rats devour Cutwater and Hold-Your-Nose, resulting in an impressive pool of blood!” Read the full review here.

After Ogden, it was off to our next screening at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Here’s a picture of Keir and me with some of the filmmakers after the show—including David (in the tie), who helped out with the opening skit at the Salt Lake City show!

We showed a lot of great 90-Second Newberys in Salt Lake City too. For instance, C.S. Lewis Academy in Santaquin returned for a second year to the 90-Second Newbery with this marvelous movie of Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted:

As the judges said, “The performances were charismatic and engaging, and it looked like everyone was having a really good time throughout. I appreciated the resourceful use of medieval-ish costumes (especially those fairy wings!) and props like masks, swords, a crown, the shoes, the baby doll and even a big cardboard box for a coffin! That was a fun battle scene with the boys riding in on horses with swords. And I liked how you made a ‘carriage’ out of two boys on those horses galloping in front of Ella and the Prince.” Read the full review here.

I had a great talk with the folks from the C.S. Lewis Academy after the show, and they showed me pictures from the red-carpet premiere they threw at their school for the movie. I’m looking forward to more movies from C.S. Lewis Academy, and other Utah charter schools, for the 2020 screenings!

Orem Elementary School also returned for a second year, this time with six (!!) movies. For instance, this wonderful adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot:

As the judges said, “Starts with kinetic, exciting, high-stakes opening as Dana bullies our hero Roy. We immediately are on Roy’s side as we see him escape. I like how ‘Mullet Fingers’ is disguised in an Iron Man outfit, and Beatrice is a cosplaying Hermione from ‘Harry Potter,’ complete with Hogwarts robes and spell-casting ability (‘Protego!’) . . . Great work!” You can read the complete review here.

Orem Elementary also turned in this fun adaptation of Richard Peck’s 2001 Medal Winner A Year Down Yonder, although the kids who made it weren’t able to attend the screening:

As the judges said, “An exhilarating sprint through the book! That was a fun performance of the crusty, cantankerous ‘Grandma Dowdel,’ and I like how the story was modernized from the 1930s to today by having the characters text each other. The part with the tornado was resourcefully managed by using a storm sound effect and flashing the lights on and off . . . Fast and fun to watch.” You can read the full review here

Orem Elementary also made this adaptation of Sharon Creech’s 1995 Medal Winner Walk Two Moons:

As the judges said, “I like how this movie portrays Sal and her grandparents as sock puppets, serving as a framing device for the story that Sal is telling about her and her friend Phoebe, who are played by real-life actors. Excellent cinematography as well—this movie is very well shot! . . . A fun romp through the book.” The full review is available here here.

Also check out these other movies from Orem Elementary that we showed at the screening: The Westing Game, another version of The Westing Game in the style of “Cluemanji,” a movie of Bridge to Terabithia, and a movie of Bud, Not Buddy. Great job, Orem Elementary School!

I loved my time in Utah, and I can’t wait to come back. Thanks to Michael McClane and the folks at Utah Humanities, Lynne Goodwin and Robert Goodwin and everyone at the Treehouse Museum, Liesl Jacobsen, Sarah Daenitz, Rebecca West, and Aleko Campos of the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Printed Garden bookstore, and all of those young filmmakers and the parents and teachers who supported them.

Here’s to next year! Remember, although movies for next year’s film festival are due in January 2020, you can turn them in anytime! Complete information, including how-to guides and tips, at the 90-Second Newbery website.

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.

Thanks, San Antonio, for another amazing 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening!

February 11, 2019

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.

What an incredible day! On Saturday, February 9 we kicked off the 2019 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in San Antonio, at the beautiful Witte Museum. Over 600 people registered for the screening, and we filled the auditorium up:

(That’s filmmaker Robert Rodriguez doing an intro of our show.)

I was lucky enough to have as my co-host the hilarious, game-for-anything Texas author Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl), who really belted out the song in the opening skit—a skit that also featured the super-talented Kiera Ocampo of Vale Middle School.

Thank you so, so much to Laura Cole and her crew at Bibliotech, Christa Aldrich and her people at HEB Read Three, and Judge Nelson Wolff and Tracy Wolff of the Hidalgo Foundation. It’s because of their support and friendship that the 90-Second Newbery has taken off so splendidly in San Antonio.

I was lucky enough to have San Antonio journalist Robert Rivard himself introduce me to the crowd before the show. And I was very much honored to have Judge Wolff speak beforehand too. AND even the mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, gave an introductory speech! San Antonio knows how to roll out the red carpet!

Thanks also to Erika Prosper, JSAV Productions, Say Si, the Witte Museum, and Whataburger for their support and help. I couldn’t do this without you! (And most of the photographs on this page are courtesy of Say Si.)

Speaking of Robert Rivard, his reporter Nicholas Frank did a great write-up of the screening in the Rivard Report.

It was so great to watch the kids’ movies, and then meet them in real life. Here we are watching an adaptation of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes by the group called “Chosen GEMS,” and here are the Chosen GEMS themselves:

San Antonio is unique among the 90-Second Newbery screenings in that there’s competitive aspect to it, and prize money for the schools of the winners!

This year, first place (and $1500!) went to this adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver by APAP Productions of Boerne, Texas:

Our full review is on the 90-Second Newbery webite, in which judges say the movie has “a rich and beautifully worded script that was expertly narrated. The camera angles, editing, and music were all well-chosen to add to the overall mood and pacing of the story … especially when the Giver was giving to Jonas his memories, and the camera whirled around and around, using the brief darkness that occurs when going behind the head to cut to the specific memories. The acting was committed, engaging, and believable!” (And, I found at the screening, they composed the music themselves!)

Here are the guys of APAP Productions accepting their grand prize from Judge Wolff:

Second place (and $750) went to this adaptation of Russell Freedman’s 1988 Medal Winner Lincoln: A Photobiography by Alinne and Brenda of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy:

As the judges said, this movie is “resourceful, polished, and comprehensive! . . . The olde-tymey piano background music sets the right mood, and the olde-tymey sepia backgrounds situate us right in the era (and serve as an effective foil for the more-colorful puppets). I liked the extreme acceleration of the dialogue: ‘I shall run for state legislature.’ ‘Sir, you’ve lost the election!’ ‘I guess I’ll just have to try harder next time.’ . . . Fantastic job!”

Third place, and $500, went to this adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Winner The Tale of Despereaux by Rome, Andrew, Manuel, Mac, Maddie, and Edrick of St. Anthony Catholic School:

The judges said, “Great illustrations and great acting, but most importantly . . great rap battle! The use of subtitles was smart, too, because the rapping is so admirably fast. I liked the clever rhymes and the fun tangents they went on (Tony Stark!) and it was a great choice to throw a barrage of fun illustrations at the viewer, broken up every once in a while by the occasional live-action bit. This was joyful, ingenious, and so much fun to watch!”

There were also two honorable mentions, with prizes of $250 each! The first was for this adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet by Utopia ISD of Utopia, TX:

The judges said,, “It was a stroke of brilliance to tell the story using a news story perspective. The video and sound quality are excellent and the use of videography tells the story effectively and efficiently . . . High quality stuff!”

The second honorable mention was for this adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together by Galileo of the Advanced Learning Academy in San Antonio:

The judges called this “a wonderful, charming, impressive movie! I loved the combination of elaborate stop-motion paper puppets, expressive spoken narration, and sound effects and music.”

There a few more movies I’d like to highlight. The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival received lots of entries from JSTEM Academy in San Antonio, all of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal winner The Giver. We couldn’t feature them all at the screening, but each of the movies had great moments. So here at the 90-Second Newbery, we edited them all together, and put over it a rap about The Giver that was also done by one of the JSTEM students. Enjoy!

I also wanted to draw attention to this great Charlotte’s Web by Celeste, Jose, Sebastian, Adrian, Lydia, Emmanuel, Kaleb of Pershing Elementary that we used to kick off the San Antonio show. In fact, I’m going to use it to kick off the show through all the cities in the 2019 tour. It’s perfect in its own way.

You can read the review of it here, which says “the fantastically detailed paper puppets, the vibrant colors, and the galloping music all combined to make a compelling, kinetic piece of animation.”

We received over 160 movie submissions from San Antonio this year. There were so many great entries, it was very hard to choose! We only had time to show 20 on Saturday. Here are the others we featured that day (click to watch!):

Hatchet by Joe A, Peter K, Kayla M, Aimee A, Valerie A, Yara L, Bryan T. of Woodlawn Hills Elementary

The Giver by St. Luke’s Episcopal School

Because of Winn-Dixie by Nevaeh, James, Benjamin, Dalton, Jonelle, and Alana of the Frederick Douglass Academy

Old Yeller by Ryanna and Phoenix of Madison Elementary

Last Stop on Market Street by Louis V., Artemio R., Carlos C., Nathaniel Y., Abel A., and Emanuel C. of Kindred Elementary

The Tale of Despereaux by Alexander, Gabriela, Beatrice, Cameron, Jimmy, and Aiden of Bonham Academy

The One and Only Ivan by Damien G. and Emiliano R. of Miller Elementary GATE

Holes by Jimmijha, Ranevaeh, Danna, Shermiya, A’morie,Frankie, Faith, Nevaeh, and Hattie of “Chosen GEMS”

Holes by Vale Middle School

Frog and Toad Together by Mel, Bella, Devyn and Eugenia of Young Women’s Leadership Academy

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Aliya Macknojua of Colony Meadows Elementary, Sugar Land, TX

Hello, Universe by Emma Dixon, Dripping Springs, TX

The Whipping Boy by Rhodes Elementary School

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!

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.

Listen To Me On THREE Podcasts! The Secrets of Story Podcast and The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian and NewberyTart

January 17, 2019

The 2019 season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is beginning, and I’m very busy getting ready for it. In cities all over the country, I’ll team up with other bestselling and award-winning children’s authors to present short kid-made movies that retell Newbery-winning books. These screenings are always raucous, hilarious, and packed! I’ll start in San Antonio on February 9 and then I’ll be doing shows in a different city almost every weekend until Boston on April 28. Check out our full schedule, and make your free reservations, here. You should come! The shows are so much fun!

To tide you over while I’m so busy, here are some podcasts that I’ve been on lately.

A few weeks ago we dropped the eighth episode of the Secrets of Story podcast that I host with storytelling guru Matt Bird. He has a Secrets of Story website that has lots of good advice for novelists, screenwriters, and storytellers of every stripe . . . but I disagree with Matt’s advice a lot, and so therefore: podcast gold!

Here is the corresponding post on Matt’s blog, which I include because of the lively discussion that broke out in the comments section.

What’s this episode about? Well, there’s a lot of bad advice about storytelling floating around the internet, right? And in my opinion the worst of it treats stories like a kind of paint-by-numbers algorithm. But this advice is so seductive, because it’s often presented in such clear, confident, seemingly unassailable terms. Beginning storytellers might be tempted to take it too seriously, which is profoundly misguiding and (I feel) tends to lead to mechanical, stale, boring stories.

Obviously, one should be familiar with some of this advice. It should be part of one’s mental furniture. But when it becomes a robotic recipe, or a demanding checklist, you have to be careful that it doesn’t squelch your quirky individual spark. I mean, it blew my mind when I was 15 years old and I first learned about Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” and obviously lots of stories follow its general structure. But it’s a profound mistake to try to slot every story into that particular structure, especially your own. I’ve learned a lot of Dan Harmon’s “Story Circle,” which is based on Campbell’s structure (Matt and I even did an appreciative episode of the podcast about it, complete with lots of links to Harmon’s helpful explanations), but what about stories that don’t fit that structure? In this episode we explore alternative storytelling structures that go beyond the Hero’s Journey / Story Circle scheme.

We talk about Boogie Nights, In Search of Lost Time, Brideshead Revisited, The Last Jedi, Beowulf, and other stories that aren’t so much about a hero solving a large problem, but rather about an old world passing away and getting supplanted by a new situation. I bring up the precursor and inspiration to Joseph Campbell, an amateur anthropologist named Lord Raglan (that is, “Fitzroy Richard Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan”—that’s him hanging out with me and Matt in the picture above).

It seems to me that Joseph Campbell appropriated the first half of Lord Raglan’s hero archetype—about the rise of a hero—but Campbell discarded the other half of Lord Raglan’s structure, which is about the decline of the hero. A hidden second act to the well-known Hero’s Journey! A kind of shadow structure! What happens to the hero after they finish their journey? What is the story about the hero’s decline? Matt and I explore the idea in this podcast, and then we start fighting about Russian bots and Breaking Bad. Just another day on the internet.

I was also recently interviewed on The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian,, a kids’ science fiction podcast that I think can best be described as The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the K-8 set. It’s funny and inventive and super popular (with an upcoming book, even!). And it’s all the brainchild of my good friend Jonathan Messinger and his son Griffin. Here they are in the studio:

On this episode Jonathan and I banter about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, our longtime friendship (I’ve known him for like twenty years), and I make a bunch of insider Finn Caspian jokes that might only make sense if you’ve listened to the podcast. Which you should! Start from episode 1, listen to them all, and work your way up to our interview! Jonathan is a peach and I’m lucky to know him. Here’s the episode:

And oh wait! There’s one more podcast I recently appeared on that I should mention. It’s called the Newbery Tart podcast and it’s hosted by Jennie and Marcy (a librarian and a bookseller, respectively) who are reading and drinking their way through the entire catalogue of Newbery books, and interviewing authors and illustrators along the way.

In this episode we talk about some of the highs and lows of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s a good episode, and they were generous and funny interviewers! The children’s book world has so many great people in it. I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Okay, that’s it! Three podcasts! Enjoy! I’m off to review hundreds and hundreds of submissions for the 90-Second Newbery. See you on the other side!

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