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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery, Chicago Style: The Great Fire and A Ring of Endless Light

October 26, 2011

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It looms! Screenings in New York 11/5, Chicago 11/16.

That got me thinking. New York is well-represented in the Newbery lists: just think of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Newbery Medal 1968), or 1970s Upper West Side in When You Reach Me (Newbery Medal 2009), or indeed The Cricket in Times Square (Newbery Honor 1961). That’s just off the top of my head! There are many more.

But as a Chicagoan, I must ask: how many Chicago-centric Newbery award winners are there?

Nope, Richard Peck’s A Long Way From Chicago (Newbery Honor 1999) doesn’t count. Even though the word “Chicago” is in the title, I recall the whole book takes place in downstate Illinois. Of course, there’s The Westing Game (Newbery Medal 1979), set in a Chicago apartment building, but the only other title that occurs to me is Jim Murphy’s The Great Fire (Newbery Honor 1996), which is of course about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Time Out Chicago Kids, who last week ran a great story about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, has sportingly thrown their hat into the ring with the video above―a retelling of The Great Fire in the style of an Errol Morris documentary! The twist: all of the “experts” on the Great Fire of Chicago are under three years old. Jonathan Messinger, the Books editor of Time Out, made the video; he’s a friend, and I must further admit, he recruited my daughter Lucy for one of the roles. You can read more about the making of this video at the Time Out Chicago Kids blog. Masterful job, Jonathan, and thanks for representing for Chicago!

Our other selection for today is also by a Chicagoan, Eti Berland, who is a graduate student at the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The book? Madeleine L’Engle’s 1981 Newbery Honor book A Ring of Endless Light. Keeping with today’s Chicago theme, it is done in the style of Ira Glass’ This American Life! (Yeah, I know the show moved to New York in 2006, but I Chicago still rightfully claims it.) Have at it, Eti:

Eti really nailed the This American Life tone here, right down to the musical cues popping in whenever the emotional tenor of the narrative changes or the plot “turns.” The idea to do the visuals in the form of a scrapbook was ingenious, original, and beautifully executed!

Thanks for the shout-out at the end to The Order of Odd-Fish and the great Katie Davis, who does an indispensable kidlit podcast called Brain Burps About Books (Katie interviewed me on Brain Burps back in January, and again on the “red carpet” at the Newbery banquet in New Orleans this summer).

Thanks so much, Jonathan and Eti, for two great Chicago entries! They’ll both be at the screening at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago on November 16 (6-8 pm). Dear Reader, will YOU?