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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery 2018: ROCHESTER!

May 7, 2018

Do you want the 90-Second Newbery to continue next year? Please make a tax-deductible donation here to keep us going. Every little bit helps! We’re under the nonprofit fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas.

On Sunday, March 25, 2018 we had a screening of the seventh annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in Rochester, New York! Rochester has always been a hotbed of 90-Second Newbery activity, and this year was no exception. So many great movies! I was so proud to showcase them at Rochester’s Dryden Theatre in the George Eastman Museum. I was particularly thrilled to meet the kid filmmakers—some of them veterans from years past, some of them brand-new fresh faces on the 90-Second Newbery scene.

My co-host was Rochester superlibrarian and previous Newbery committee member Matt Krueger, whose style and panache brought real class to my dog-and-pony show. Look at this guy! Here Matt and I pose with the similarly stylish and resourceful Eliza Kozlowski of the George Eastman Museum:

In this video, Eliza introduces me and Matt, and then we launch into our opening skit in which Matt scandalizes me with revelations about video-game versions of Newbery-winning books, which eventually culminates in a song-and-dance encouraging folks to make their 90-Second Newberys as weird as possible, all sung to the tune of “Make A Man Out Of You” from the Disney classic Mulan:

Enough of my hosting buffoonery, let’s check out the great movies themselves!

Wunderkind Eian-Gabriel Sinclair, a 90-Second Newbery veteran, returns to this year with another movie in his inimitable animation style, this time of Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins:

As the judges wrote in part, “A tour de force! This movie was amazingly well-drawn and cleverly animated . . . Tight script, expressive voiceover, and the music was charming.” Read the full review here.

That’s not the only adaptation of Mr. Popper’s Penguins we got from Rochester! This one is by the fourth graders of Leo Bernabi Elementary:

As the judges wrote, “It was a smart choice to open this movie with a relaxed conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Popper, grounding the story in their relationship and their difficulties before moving on to the crazy penguin stuff. I liked the way they both reacted with delighted shock when Admiral Drake spoke directly to them through the radio. The performance of the penguins was funny, especially with the constant ‘ork! ork! ork!’ noises . . . An engaging and entertaining adaptation of the book!” Read the full review here.

Every year the kids of the RCTV/Writers and Books Summer Camp make several movies for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. They’re always fantastic! The camp made three this year. The first is Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s spooky 1972 Honor Book The Headless Cupid, updated to make its witchy character Amanda a YouTube star called “Occult Amanda.” In this movie, she documents the plot of the book on her vlog:

As the judges wrote, “an ingenious, creative, and hilarious way of updating the story! It totally nails how the story would be converted for the Internet age: naturally the witchy, overbearing stepsister Amanda from the 1970s book would nowadays be the YouTube vlogger ‘Occult Amanda,’ complete with logo, branded content, and (inevitably) that characteristic vlogger mannerism of starting every video by braying ‘HEY GUYS…!’ . . . It’s really fun to watch – all the way to the Blair-Witch style, first-person horror at the end, when Occult Amanda meets her own grisly fate!” Read the full review here.

Another movie by the RCTV/Writers and Books Summer Camp is an adaptation of 2015 Honor Book El Deafo by Cece Bell:

As the judges wrote, “Lots of great ideas came together here to make a movie that’s really entertaining and fun . . . It was truly hilarious when Cece’s dreamy crush ‘Mike Miller’ shows up, complete with wind blowing dramatically through his hair and flirtatiously wiggling his eyebrows – Cece’s ‘hubba hubba’ reaction might’ve been the best part of the movie!” Read the full review here.

The third and final movie by the RCTV/Writers and Books Summer Camp is an adaptation of Esther Forbes’ 1944 Newbery Medal Winner Johnny Tremain, in the style of Star Wars:

As the judges wrote, “What a great idea to do Johnny Tremain in the style of Star Wars! It makes perfect sense–both are the stories of a young man participating in the revolt against a distant, overbearing empire. And there’s a great parallel of how Luke and Vader are actually father-and-son, and Johnny and the villainous Mr. Lyte are uncle and nephew, and thus Mr. Lyte fits quite well as a Darth Vader character . . . A standout!” Read the full review here.

That’s not the only great Johnny Tremain we got from Rochester this year. Here’s another one by the all-girl school Our Lady of Mercy. That’s right, it’s an all-female Johnny Tremain:

As the judges wrote, “the narrator did a good job keeping the story on track and moving along at a brisk pace. I like how the movie concentrates on the most visually striking and physically active moments of the book, like when Johnny burns his hand, the Boston Tea Party, and the battle in the Revolutionary War . . . This all-girl Johnny Tremain gives new ironic meaning to the concluding phrase ‘a man can stand up’ when it’s said by a girl! Entertaining and engaging throughout!” Read the full review here.

Olivia Colvin and her brother made this movie of Russell Freedman’s 1992 Honor Book The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane:

As the judges wrote, “a fun and effective idea to tell the story with no spoken words, but instead a sequence of stock photographs, short videos, and personal photos . . . My favorite part was how this movie portayed an airplane by strapping two branches to a boy’s arms and having him sprint down the driveway, flapping!” Read the full review here.

The last of the Rochester-made movies we featured was this great version of The Westing Game, adapted by 6th graders Sam, Eitan, Ella, Sarina, Noah, Hannah and Nikol of Hillel Community Day School:

As the judges wrote, “Fun idea to tell the story of The Westing Game in the form of a super-dramatic trailer! The tense synth music, punctuated by the occasional BOOM, made for an effective atmosphere . . . Goofy and entertaining throughout, and fulfills the ‘trailer’ tropes well.” Read the full review here.

Thanks to everyone who made the Rochester screening possible! Thanks first and foremost to Deb Ross of and Carol White Llewelyn of RCTV, the prime movers who brought me to Rochester in the first place and who make the film festival happen, year after year. The 90-Second Newbery owes so much of its Rochester success to them! Thanks also to my friends Amy Holland and Arthur Bond, who gave me a place to stay while I was in town (and who helped me solve a certain mystery from my junior high school days, about weepuls . . . in a way, the less said about that, the better!)

Thanks to Eliza Kozlowski and everyone at the Dryden Theatre of the George Eastman Museum for giving us a venue for the screening. And thanks again to Matt Krueger, such a talented and hilarious co-host!

Thanks also to our generous sponsors and partners: Animatus Studio, Cheshire Audio/Visual, the Friends and Foundation of the Rochester Public Library, Delta Airlines, Rochester Community Television, and

And of course, thanks most of all to the young filmmakers, and the parents and teachers who helped them, especially those who came out to our screening on March 25! Here’s the final montage we showed that day:

Do you want the 90-Second Newbery to continue next year? Please make a tax-deductible donation here to keep us going. Every little bit helps! We’re under the nonprofit fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas.