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The Order of Oddfish

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Odd-Fish Art by Thomas Kendall: Inside Dame Myra’s Greenhouse

February 4, 2013

The Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is this coming Sunday, but today let’s check out some beautiful art inspired by The Order of Odd-Fish that I found recently!

In the book, Dame Myra is the Odd-Fish knight who studies Improbable Botany. These pictures of Dame Myra’s greenhouse on the top of the lodge, and the bizarre plants one might find within, are by the young and enviably talented Thomas Kendall of London. He’s associated with the folks at the Urban Physic Garden and Registry for Wayward Plants, two groups that one associates quite naturally with improbable botany! (And indeed, they are planning a special “Improbable Botany” exhibition this summer in London, and I’m contributing a short story to their upcoming anthology based on the theme of Improbable Botany. More on that in future posts! It’s exiting stuff!)

If you want to see all these pictures on Thomas’ blog, check it out here. Above we see Thomas’ vision of the greenhouse. As he says on his blog, “Run by Dame Myra, the greenhouse at the Order of Odd Fish is filled with strange, exotic and completely unknown plants of the kind that we don’t believe exist in our world.” Beautifully done!

But that’s just the beginning! Here is some improbable botany Thomas invented for the greenhouse, a “balloon fruit”:

According to Thomas,

This plant is a parasite. It draws its nutrients from the tree it latches on to but it gets pollinated by the rare and noble gases in the air around it. It has a tiny delicate flower nestled at the heart of its leaves which has a small vacuum inside to pull in the gases. As the fruit ripens it fills with new flavorsome vapours which cause it to float. Once the fruit is mature it detaches and floats away. Harvesters cover trees in gigantic but fine nets to trap the striped fruits. Once rotten though the gas escapes and it falls to the ground with a squish and disperses the seeds.

Brilliant! I wish that was in the book! This is what I like best about seeing Odd-Fish art: the way different artists expand the world of the book according to their own interests and ideas, extending it in all sorts of interesting ways.

But Thomas isn’t done yet. Behold the Cat’s Cradle Tree:

Take it away, Thomas:

This tree grows in particularly arid areas. What appears as a barren trunk in periods of drought, sprouts vines in rain season. These vines knot and twist together to form elaborate patterns. These vines draw water and nutrients from the air and surrounding soil which fattens the trunk to maintain its life span through the dry seasons. In these seasons it returns to a bare trunk pulling in all the vines to protect them.

This makes me want to write an entire book just about Dame Myra and her adventures in a world of plants created by Thomas! One more, the Apple of My Eye:

Explanation, Thomas?

This plant is the result of nymphs mating with trees on an all-too-regular basis. Over time the trees have gained human characteristics. What was a traditional English Cox’s apple has developed eyes… Its center is filled with an apple-flavoured aqueous humour and the leaves grew eyelashes to swat away unwelcome insects.

I like a fellow who can deploy a term like “apple-flavoured aqueous humour” with such aplomb. And these sketches are all absolutely first-rate, glorious! Thanks a million, Thomas—and I hope to meet you this summer as the Improbable Botany exhibition gains steam!

“Between Two Ferns” with me and . . . Madison Ross!

January 30, 2013

I’ve met lots of talented folks through the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Madison Ross is the thirteen-year-old mastermind behind two great 90-Second Newbery movies (adaptations of Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard and Carl Hiassen’s Hoot). When I was visiting Rochester, NY this past November, we had the idea to record an interview together. Our twist: do it in the style of Zach Galiafanakis’ wondrous fake interview show, Between Two Ferns.

Madison and I improvised it. She has great comic timing, really nailing the passive-aggressive vibe that is the heart of Between Two Ferns. I had a ball making this with her. Watch out for Madison, she’s the real deal!

This was shot at RCTV-15 in Rochester by Joshua Bloodworth and edited by Carol White Llewelyn. Along with Deb Ross (Madison’s mother), we also shot some more straightforward interviews that aired on RCTV-15, talking about The Order of Odd-Fish, the 90-Second Newbery, being an author, etc. The interview is in three parts, and you can watch them here: Part One and Part Two and Part Three.

Thanks, Madison, Deb, Carol, Josh, and everyone at RCTV-15!

90-Second Newbery: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

January 29, 2013

First of all, congratulations to the new batch of Newbery winners announced yesterday, including Katherine Applegate’s Medal-winning The One and Only Ivan. That book, along with the rest of this year’s winners, are now officially fair game for next year’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Get cracking on your movies, folks! Deadline December 2013! Complete details about the film festival here. (Oh, speaking of the ALA awards, special shout-out to fellow Brother Delacorte Adam Selzer, who under the pen name S.J. Adams just won a Stonewall Honor for his novel Sparks!)

Speaking of the 90-Second Newbery, here’s a great video of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler I received a few months ago that, somehow, I forgot to post! It’s by Rebecca, Henry, Kate, Lucy, Elliott, Peter, and Emma from Cincinnati, OH, the same crew who last year brought you the unforgettable Valley-Girl version of The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

This one lives up to the promise of the first! With definitely the sassiest Frankweiler I’ve seen in any 90-Second Newbery. It’s slightly long, at about 5 minutes, but this group knows what it’s doing, keeping interest with good cutting and use of locations, a great museum montage, and a tight, funny script. (For some reason my favorite part was the “Empty your bladder . . . with a number two pencil” bit.) I liked the ridiculousness of finding the note in the mixed-up files that just straight-up says “It’s a Michaelangelo.” Funny and well-made! In the words of their Frankweiler: “And that, Saxonberg, is what’s up.” I can’t wait to see what this group does for the third year!

And remember, folks, although the February 10 screening in Chicago is sold out, we have screenings of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival coming up in Portland and Tacoma. See my events page for details. See you there!

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