order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery: The ABC Bunny, From the Mixed-Up Files, and . . . Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing?!

October 19, 2011

I’m stunned, grateful, and excited! My inbox is overflowing with a TON of last-minute submissions for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Please, if I haven’t gotten back to you yet, it’s only because I’m buried under a million films right now I have to sort through. I will try to show at least one film every day from now until the screenings in New York (November 5) and Chicago (November 16). Complete info on the film festival here!

We’ve had some great musical 90-Second Newbery films, like the musical version of The 21 Balloons by Elephant and Worm that I showed back in July. Here’s another (above)―a musical version of The ABC Bunny, an alphabet picture book by Wanda Gag (Newbery Honor, 1934).

It turns out that Wanda’s sister, Flavia Gag, wrote an official song for the book. Here the song is adapted to a zippy 90-second guitar version by Chris Norborg and Alice Setrini and their kids Domingo and Amalia. Full disclosure! Chris has been my friend for almost 20 years now (yikes!) and my brother-in-law for the past three years. Eagle-eared connoisseurs of nineties indie music know Chris as the bassist of D.C. mod-pop band Chisel; Ted Leo, who now heads up the great band the Pharmacists, was in Chisel. (Last year I wrote a long blog post about what a big deal Chisel is for me.)

Enough history! Chris is a great guitarist and singer, and Alice, Domingo, and Amalia do backup vocals on this sweet, witty, and tuneful take on The ABC Bunny. The visuals are super-cute, showing off Domingo and Amalia’s nuclear-powered adorableness. There’s even a cameo by my daughter Lucy! Her nickname is Baby Owl, so she shows up for “O for Owl’s bookish look.” Notice what she’s holding: a copy of the German translation of The Order of Odd-Fish. Whoa.

Next up: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koningsburg (Newbery Medal 1968), by Lily, Claire, and Maddie from Lombard, IL:

Very enjoyable, ingeniously compressed, and good performances all around! I loved Mrs. Frankweiler’s rather smug, slightly diabolical delivery. Especially how she pops out from behind the “angel”! Super Claudia and Jamie too! I’m told Lily, Claire, and Maddie will be attending the 90-Second Newbery screening in Chicago on November 16. Can’t wait to meet them and congratulate them in person!

No time to linger, must press onward! Margaret Reynold’s 2nd grade class at Park View School in Morton Grove, IL created this Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing:

Now wait a second, I know what you’re saying: “James, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing didn’t win a Newbery Medal or an Honor. Why is it in the film festival?” To which all I can say is: ruh roh. You’re right! But c’mon, the kids are obviously having a ball . . . So let’s call this an “honorary exhibition entry,” and I’m looking forward to seeing the kids from Morton Grove when they come to the screening on November 16. Great job!

The film festival gets closer and closer! Getting excited!

90-Second Newbery, Puppetry Edition: Dark Emperor and Because of Winn-Dixie

October 17, 2011

I reviewed Colson Whitehead’s new zombie novel Zone One and Otto Penzler’s zombie anthology Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! last Saturday for the Wall Street Journal. You can read the review here. Links to all of the reviews I’ve done for the WSJ are here.

Today is the deadline for entries to our 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s a contest in which filmmakers (of any age) make movies that compress the entire plot of a Newbery award winning book into 90 seconds or less. I will try to post all the entries I’ve received on this blog before the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings at the New York Public Library main branch (November 5) and the Chicago Public Library Harold Washington branch (November 16). Complete details about the contest and screenings here!

Today I want to feature two films that eschew live performances for ingenious puppetry. Scroll back up and check out the adaptation of Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, a 2011 Newbery Honor Book written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. That’s right, some Newbery books are poetry! This one is a series of poems from different plants and animals in the forest at night: a raccoon, a snail, a primrose moth, a mouse, an owl, an oak tree, a spider, a baby porcupine, a cricket, mushrooms, an eft, a bat, and the moon.

Full disclosure: I helped with this video. I worked with Soledad, Marlen, and Maricela at Casa Juan Diego in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, with help from Yvette Leigh of the Lozano branch of the Chicago Public Library and Jennifer O’Neil of Casa Juan Diego (Kathy, Yulissa, and Gianna also helped). We made a night forest and animal puppets out of paper and cardboard. All the spoken lines are from the book: each animal/plant gets to say one line from their respective poem. I filmed and edited this one, but it’s the girls’ wonderful performances and elaborate craft work that made this film work so well. Congratulations!

But that’s not the only puppet 90-Second Newbery we’ve received. Here’s another, of Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. It’s by the 10-year-old Karen Stewart of Wichita Falls, TX, with help from her mom, sister, and brother. Take it away, Karen!


Ingenious! Karen did ample justice to DiCamillo’s plot, the puppets were well-drawn and creatively deployed, and I liked the voiceover work of all the characters! And Karen did it all under ninety seconds. A triumph of compression. I’d love to see more puppet shows from Karen. Thanks so much!

More films to come!

90-Second Newberys From NYC: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Westing Game, and The Whipping Boy

October 14, 2011

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival APPROACHETH! The deadline for entries is October 17, and so they’ve been coming fast and furious lately. Today I’d like to share three from the New York City area―and remember, New Yorkers, the 90-Second Newbery screening is November 5 at the NYPL main branch!

The first one is another great Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin’s Newbery Honor book of 2009. 90-Second Newbery watchers will remember the shadow-puppet version we’ve already received from Bookie Woogie and the paper-puppet version from Orrington School in Evanston, IL. Here’s the first LIVE-ACTION version, by Felix Chen’s third grade (and some junior high school students) from Abington Friends school in Queens (EDIT: Actually, not Queens, but Jenkintown, Pennsylvania! That’s two hours away! I don’t know how I made that mistake).

I love the title card, the music throughout, and the attention to detail―look how they animated the goldfish’s mouth, and the dragon costume is exquisite! The fake beard on the Old Man in the Moon is also choice. A great entry, and I look forward to meeting the cast if they come to the screening on November 5! (They blog about working on the movie here.)

Next up is The Westing Game, the 1979 Newbery Medal winner by Ellen Raskin, done by Brooklyn Friends School (which I’ll be visiting while I’m in NYC!) It was organized by 11-year-olds Chloe Levine, Michelle Lowe, and Sophia L., advised by Angela Ungaro. (This video begins with a gag reel, so if you want to skip straight to the story, go to the 2:15 mark):

A very enjoyable 90-second version of The Westing Game! This book is particularly challenging for our film festival because of how insanely complicated it is―I’m glad they were able to pull it all together! I’m looking forward to meeting Chloe and everyone at Brooklyn Friends. (They may even have a live act for between the films at the film festival . . . )

Next up: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman (Newbery Medal, 1987). It’s by Melissa Ferraro and her kids at Camp Mel, a summer camp in Central Park. Look closely and perhaps you can recognize some familiar parts of Central Park in the background:

The kids were all clearly having a ball, especially Prince Brat at the beginning. Loved the way the line “Now both of you take a shower, you’re very stinky. Off you go!” is delivered at the end, too. I looked at the website of Melissa’s camp―sounds like a great time.

Thank you, New Yorkers, and see you at the film festival on November 5!

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