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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery, New Zealand Edition: A Single Shard (2002) and A Bridge to Terabithia (1978)

September 16, 2011

CHICAGOANS: I’m one of the “celebrity judges” at the Book Cellar’s Adult Spelling Bee tonight. Other guest judges: The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer, Kelsie Huff of The Kates, and Chicago Tribune Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor. 7 pm.

OK, America, you’re on notice.

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival has been an international film festival ever since we got those great Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me, and Savvy films from Toronto. BUT NOW THE FESTIVAL IS INTERCONTINENTAL.

Today, I bring you two extremely well-made 90-second Newbery films from NEW ZEALAND. From Mt. Eden Normal Primary School, in Auckland, to be precise. All made using a “Sony standard 8 video camera and an elderly iMac,” according to their director, Bruce Sandford. Check out the first video above, of 2002 Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park!

The story is set in 12th century Korea, and they really make it work as a historical drama: traditional costumes, Hangul writing, and props, with good acting (even credible crying!) and crisp, fast storytelling. I loved the irascible master potter Min and the heroic boy Tree-ear (here played by a girl). Even the scene with the bandits was well-done, with jagged, disoriented camera work. The Kiwi accents make it a refreshing treat, too . . . Sometimes, when I hear how they speak English in other countries, I can’t help but feel that we Americans, and Chicagoans in particular, sound like geese.

But Mt. Eden Normal Primary School is just getting started. Here is their deft, sensitive A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:

These New Zealand submissions have raised the bar for this film festival! This is just satisfying, solid filmmaking. And the unfussy magic realism of the angelic “Terabithians” in the trees at the end was a masterstroke. I really enjoyed both of these films.

As it happens, when I was in high school, I had a pen pal from New Zealand whose last name was Sandford, just like the director of these movies. I know it’s a long shot, but I wonder if he’s related to her . . . ? I asked Bruce in an email but I haven’t heard back yet. What a strange coincidence it would be if he somehow knew her! I haven’t communicated with her since, like, 1989.

90-Second Newbery: The Graveyard Book, Charlotte’s Web, and When You Reach Me

September 7, 2011

FELLOW CHICAGOANS! Can you spell? Friday, September 16, I’m one of the “celebrity judges” at the Book Cellar’s Adult Spelling Bee! Other guest judges: The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer and Chicago Tribune Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor. Guest host Kelsie Huff from the Book Cellar’s house comedy team, The Kates. Prizes for some, fun for all. 7 pm.

The 90-Second Newbery film festival! It’s coming in November! I knew I’d receive many brilliant 90-second films of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I’d thought that the black-and-white, silent-movie-style Graveyard Book done by kids in Toronto would be impossible to match, but check out the movie above. It’s just as impressive!

This gorgeous animated Graveyard Book is by “Ignis Draco,” a thirteen-year-old from Andover, MN. It’s a Terry Gilliam-esque romp done in a shadow puppet style, and cleverly retells The Graveyard Book in terms of its source, The Jungle Book. It’s funny throughout, the animation is ingenious, and wait till you see what happens to poor Mr. Gaiman’s head during the credits. I barked, positively barked, with mirth. I appreciated the sly references to the fact that all of Neil Gaiman’s books are written by bees (a revelation that I first announced here and confronted Neil Gaiman with in person here). Ignis manages to hit most of the significant high points of the book with verve and style: the plot-points-on-a-moving-train idea is inspired, and the narration is delightfully droll. I loved it! Thank you, Ignis Draco!

Next up, from the 5th-8th graders at the Bainbridge Island Public LibraryCharlottes’s Web:

Compelling performances, cute costumes, charming sets! (And we even get puppetry! A goose, a spider . . . ) I loved how gleeful Mr. Arable is about killing Wilbur at the beginning. Forceful acting! The Wilbur is an adorable performance, too. So is Templeton, Charlotte, Fern, everyone―and kudos to Charley and Max for the piano music. And of course I’m not forgetting Olivia and Max’s deft editing. A winner all around! The youth services librarian, Carmine Rau, said that they did it all in less than 9 hours: arguing over which book to choose, writing the script, gathering props and costumes, and shooting and editing the film (“an hour of work for every ten seconds of film,” said one of the boys). Well done, and thank you Bainbridge!

And finally, we have another great version of When You Reach Me―this time by a kids’ video class taught by Robert Carter at the Library of the Chathams, New Jersey:

This delirious sprint was actually condensed from an 12-minute version of When You Reach Me that the same class made. I like how the story is broken up with scenes of the “$20,000 Pyramid” practice, and using archival footage of the gameshow was a masterstroke (in the extended version, we even get to see a young David Letterman on the show)! They got the details right: using a first-edition of A Wrinkle in Time as a prop, and giving the discussion of the time-travel paradox the full treatment it deserves. All the actors were talented and convincing, even with their voices sped up. (Speeding up the dialogue is a technique I’m surprised more people haven’t done in these 90-second movies.) Superior!

Thank you so much, Ignis Draco, Bainbridge Island Public Library, and Library of the Chathams!

For the perplexed, here’s the complete info about the 90-Second Newbery film festival, including our November 5 screening at the New York Public Library and our November 16 screening at the Harold Washington library in Chicago.

Shelly Tan’s Odd-Fish and Moots fan art, plus A Bridge to Terabithia 90-Second Newbery

September 1, 2011

This summer I taught a course in science fiction and fantasy at Northwestern University for the Center for Talent Development, a kind of academic camp for junior high school students. I received some great Odd-Fish fan art from CTD students, not least from a certain Shelly Tan, one of my favorites.

That’s her picture above! It’s the scene when Chatterbox, the snarky centipede journalist, leans out his window and gently undercuts Sefino when he comes on his triumphant visit with Jo wearing the ridiculous Hat of Honor. I already knew that Shelly was an appreciator of the insectoid form―one of the first things she mentioned to me was that she had a collection of hissing cockroaches at home―so I was pleased to see her take on Chatterbox. (But where, oh where, is the “fifteen-piece suit”?!) I particularly liked the subtly detailed color work on the windows too. Wonderful!

I’ve featured Shelly’s art on the blog before―she did excellent illustrations of the squid-worm and dragon-wasp aliens featured in the first chapter of The Magnificent Moots (my second book, which I’m editing right now―I read the first few chapters out loud on the last day of class). Below are two more pieces she sent me!

On the left, from The Magnificent Moots, is Feepness Moot, a sentient gas from Saturn. On the right, the flaming double-sided lance that is the discriminating knight’s weapon of choice in The Order of Odd-Fish. Both highly accomplished illustrations. I love the dynamic shading of the gas and the elegant swirl of the eyes in Feepness. Shelly’s inspiring me to finish editing this book, to justify the art!

But one last thing before I head back to the brain mines―another 90-second Newbery video. I’m receiving entries for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival faster than I can post them! (Don’t know what the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is? All the details, including dates of New York and Chicago screenings in November, are here.).

Today it’s a fun 90-second version of A Bridge to Terabithia, the 1978 Newbery Medal winner. The film is by Hannah, Tyler, and Polina from Appleton, WI (which they hail as “the weirdest place in the whole wide world”).

Great! Leslie’s funky blue sunglasses are a deft in-character fashion choice. I particularly liked when Jess said “There are vicious creatures” and the camera cut to a bunch of stuffed animals. The musical interlude was surreal and amusing―it’s counterintuitive to see a 90-Second Newbery that actually tries to kill time . . . !

Thanks, Hannah, Tyler, and Polina of Appleton! Well done!

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