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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Movies From My Class At The Treehouse Museum!

July 24, 2019

We just got back from a two-week trip to Utah! It was incredible! Heather and Lucy and Ingrid and I canyoned the canyons, we mountained the mountains, we hoodooed the hoodoos. Some of the landscapes made me feel like I was on Mars. Other landscapes were so jaw-droppingly beautiful that they almost seemed fake and unreal! The trip was a marvelous change from our everyday lives in Chicago, although of course in the end we were glad to come home to our familiar street and friends. Indulge me for a few pictures:

It wasn’t all sightseeing, though. For the first week of the trip, I taught a filmmaking class at Ogden’s Treehouse Museum, helping kids to make movies for submission to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. The Treehouse has hosted 90-Second Newbery screenings in Ogden in 2018 and 2019, and I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with the folks who run this singular children’s museum. Back in the spring, Lynne and Rob Goodwin of the Treehouse suggested that I come out in the summer to teach this filmmaking class, and I eagerly accepted!

As you can see from the movies below, one great advantage about this class is that we got to use the Treehouse Museum’s impressive sets and costumes for the movies. But the best thing were the twelve young filmmakers who participated. Their talent, energy, and ingenuity were amazing to behold. Let’s check out their movies!

The first movie is an adaption of Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Newbery Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street. The original book is about a kid CJ and his Nana who take a bus ride across San Francisco. CJ asks various questions of his Nana, who gives sometimes-whimsical, sometimes-weirdly-evasive answers. I like this book, although I’ve posted before about my own reservations about its character Nana, whom I regard as one of the most insidious villains in all of children’s literature. (Why can’t Nana ever give CJ a straight answer? Why is she always belittling him?)

Here, Eva and Cali and friends give the story an Old West twist. Instead of a bus, it’s a 19th-century train; instead of CJ and Nana visiting a soup kitchen, they’re fixin’ to spring Grandpa out of jail; and here, Nana is a pistol-packing granny (who is similarly unfairly dismissive of CJ’s perfectly reasonable questions):

There’s a full review of this movie on the 90-Second Newbery website, which says in part, “the Old West theme is hilariously and resourcefully fulfilled throughout . . . the best things about this movie are the performances: CJ’s wistful yearning for a horse and her earnest inquisitive nature slowly transforming into boiling irritation with her granny, which comes to a hilariously cathartic climax near the end; and of course the yee-haw pistol-packing granny, who is so amusingly full of crusty personality and hair-trigger violence.”

Adalynn, Crewe, and Cy adapted Scott O’Dell’s 1961 Newbery Medal Winner Island of the Blue Dolphins. The original story is about Karana, a 12-year-old Native American girl stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast.

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says (in part), “Great acting from everyone: Karana’s combination of both openhearted emotion and riled ferocity, Ulepe’s and Isabella’s and Tutok’s goofy humor, Rontu’s amazing comic timing, Ramo’s earnest panic, and the animals’ bloodthirsty rage are all performed amazingly well! . . . The script was tight and yet was unafraid to stray away from the source material to make a funnier and more exciting movie (especially with the last-minute revelation that the dog Rontu can talk, and Karana’s blase reaction to it).”

Summer, Speirs, Aliya, Samantha, and Rudy adapted Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal Winner Holes, but with a twist: instead of the boy Stanley Yelnats being forced to dig holes in a prison camp for a crime he didn’t commit, a girl “Stanla Alnats” is forced to bake rolls in a bakery-diner for a crime she didn’t commit:

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says in part, “Great cinematography, editing, and acting throughout this one! I loved the performances: the Warden’s maniacal evil, Zero’s earnest friendliness, Stanla’s intense emotions, and everyone else too, especially the ‘director’ who grows more and more exasperated at the ever-increasing length of the movie. Resourceful use of music, sound effects, voiceover, a chase scene, and other cinematic techniques throughout . . . I especially loved the surreal courtroom scene!”

Lucy and Molly adapted the “Cookies” vignette Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, but with a twist: instead of Frog and Toad being gentle swamp-dwelling bachelors, they are glamorous butt-kicking secret spies!

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says (in part), “The performances were hilariously tongue-in-cheek, and I liked the hardboiled voiceover and gruff interactions between the two spies. The tense action-movie music, resourceful costumes (sunglasses, hats, vests, and ties), and use of spy movie tropes like secret handoffs in mysterious places, self-destructing messages, and forbidding villains (those smirking birds!) all worked together brilliantly to make this feel like a true action-espionage movie.”

All in all, I loved teaching this class and all four of these movies are fantastic. I’m looking forward to coming back to the Treehouse Museum in the spring for the screening . . . and hopefully for another filmmaking class in next summer, too!

Thanks again Lynne and Rob and Michael and everyone at the Treehouse Museum (including Wes, Gina, David, and everyone else) for bringing me out for this Utah adventure and taking care of us! I had a blast, and I think we got some great 90-Second Newbery movies out of it. I can’t wait to share them at the screenings next year!