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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival 2023: CHICAGO!

March 17, 2023

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival live shows are back! I remember in 2020 how the entire country shut down only days after our Chicago show. Now it’s 2023, and we were able to get a pretty good crowd—even as outside, the Chicago river ran green for the St. Patrick’s Day parade! Thanks to Alexa, Robin, Michael, and Leland at the Chicago Public Library for making everything run smoothly, and thanks to Stephanie at City Lit for bookselling at the event.

Thanks also to my co-host, author Keir Graff. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a good video of our singing-and-dancing opening skit, but if you want to relive that, or are curious about what it was like, it was basically the same as how we did the skit at the Ogden screening a few weeks ago (my post with the video is here). If you like snappy Music Man patter and the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode of The Simpsons, and you hate book banning, that skit’s for you.

Okay, let’s check out some of the movies that were featured at the Chicago screening! The 90-Second Newbery house team, The Leland Street Players, are back with their adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet! That book is about Brian, the only survivor of a plane crash after the pilot has a heart attack. Brian must survive in the wilderness alone with only the hatchet that his mother gave him.

This movie is different: instead of a hatchet, all the kid has to survive is “Hat Chet”—that is, a dude named “Chet” who is proud of his weird hat:

Great performances by Lucy, Ingrid, Ezra, Zella, Rosie, Lucy D., and Ella! And stick around to the end for the official “Hat Chet” theme song, composed and played by Ezra, and sung by Zella. You can read the complete review on the 90-Second Newbery website here.

Here’s another version of Hatchet by Audrey, Elise, Tula, Cheryl, Nova W., and Nova C. from Chicago. This one is done in the style of a commercial that is advertising all the great features of “Paulsen’s Hatchet”:

Hilarious! I loved this “commercial”—and its surprise epilogue. Funny, smart, and very well made! Read our complete review on the 90-Second Newbery website.

Lily Manning is on a hot streak with her third stop-motion movie for the 90-Second Newbery! This one tops even her two previous stop-motion triumphs (My Father’s Dragon and Along Came A Dog). This one is based on Maia Wojciechowska’s 1965 Newbery Medal Winner Shadow of a Bull:

What fluid, gorgeous stop-motion animation! The bullfighting was especially fun to watch. And stick around for the funny post-credits sequence! Here’s our complete review on the 90-Second Newbery website.

The arts educational orgnization Play In A Book has done some great 90-Second Newberys in the past, like this instant classic adaptation of Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut made with the South Shore Fine Arts Academy. They teamed up South Shore again for this adaptation of Kelly Barnhill’s 2017 Medal Winner The Girl Who Drank The Moon, done in the style of a movie trailer—with the audience commenting on it and criticizing it. It’s meta!

This movie got huge laughs and big applause at the screening, and it’s easy to see why! Complete review on the 90-Second Newbery website here.

Play In A Book also worked with Armstrong Elementary in Chicago to make this video of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together. This movie’s twist: in every story, Frog and Toad jump from one multiverse to another, and each of those multiverses function according to the rules of a different movie genre! It’s like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Newbery-style:

A noir, a musical, a sitcom, a sword-and-sorcery epic, and more—all mixed and accelerated into an inventive movie with great performances! Here’s our complete review on the 90-Second Newbery website.

The next movie we featured on Saturday was by Chicago’s own Laurel, Frances, and Thuan. True aficionados remember their classic adaptation of Joseph Krumgold’s 1960 Medal Winner Onion John which stars an actual onion, or how they added a shark attack to the end of Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street. This time they adapted Will James’s 1927 Medal Winner Smoky the Cowhorse:

Ingenious, resourceful, and funny! I love how that horse can shoot baskets and handle a gun . . . and I loved the twist ending! Read the judges’ complete review here.

The 7th Grade Drama Club at East Lake Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois entered the 90-Second Newbery the first time this year with this super-fast and goofily entertaining version of Esther Forbes’ 1944 Newbery Medal Winner Johnny Tremain:

Entertaining all the way through, in large part because of a tight script and the engaged and committed performances! The audience at the screening really went for this movie too. You can read the complete review here.

The next movie is based on a recent nonfiction book about the rescue of the Thai boys’ soccer team from a flooded cave in 2018. It’s Christina Soontornvat’s 2021 Newbery Honor Book All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, adapted by Mac and Archer of Elk Grove Village, Illinois:

Those are some tough-looking Navy SEALs, the animations within the dark cave were cleverly done, and I loved the silly raspberries at the end! Full review on the 90-Second Newbery website here.

We received two movies from Wiesbrook Elementary in Wheaton, Illinois. The first one was another unique take on Frog and Toad Together—it’s by Cameron, Nate, Seamus, and Logan (edited by Colette), and it’s the first time I’ve ever gotten a 90-Second Newbery of Frog and Toad Together that stars actual toads (played by their pets Button and Pebble):

This was another one that really got the crowd going! I really liked the originality of this one. Complete review on the 90-Second Newbery website here.

But that’s not the only movie we received from Wiesbrook Elementary! The other one is based on Avi’s 1992 Honor Book Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel, and it’s by Julia, Shyan, Hailey, Sammy, Lincoln, Emma, Collette, Isha, Ellie, and Caroline:

Bonkers, super-accelerated, and actually pretty accurate! The original book is a fictional documentary about a school where a boy is suspended for persistently humming the U.S. National Anthem, irritating his teacher. The girl who played the exasperated teacher turned in a particularly amusing performance, and I liked the comedically blase kid who just wants to go back to their phone. Read the judges’ full review here.

We also received eight movies from Elgin Academy in Elgin, Illinois! They were all great, but we couldn’t feature them all, or else the show would be way too long. (You can see all of Elgin Academy’s movies here.)

However, we were able to feature two movies from Elgin Academy! The first was another version of Hatchet, this time by Abubakr, Ash, and Landen:

Simple but effective illustrations, and good voiceover work and sound effects! Read the judges’ complete remarks here.

The other featured movie from Elgin Academy was Vicky, Ava, and David’s adaptation of Scott O’Dell’s 1961 Medal Winner Island of the Blue Dolphins:

It was a fun and original idea to retell the story in the style of a reality show, helped along by snarky onscreen words and emoji. Sassy and sarcastic, I liked it! Read the judges’ complete remarks here.

Last but absolutely not least, we also received some movies from Lincoln Hall Middle School! I’m always happy to see movies from them, they submit every year. Again, we couldn’t feature every single one, but you can see all Lincoln Hall Middle School’s movies here.

Here are two of the movies from Elgin that we did feature! The first is Leila and Simra’s adaptation of Cece Bell’s 2015 Honor Book El Deafo:

A cute and quick sprint through the story using mostly stock photos, artfully deployed emojis, and dialogue balloons. And the occasional appearance of the “Hello Neighbor” creepy mustache man was an unexpected meme delight. Complete judges’ remarks here.

The other movie from Lincoln Hall Middle School we featured was Peter Thomson’s adaptation of Ellen Raskin’s 1979 Medal Winner The Westing Game:

An arty, impressionistic zigzag through the story! It’s impossible to sum up this complicated book’s plot in 90 seconds, so this concentrates on a few truly big scenes. The commitment and enthusiasm with which the cast throws themselves into the roles is so much fun to watch! Read the judges’ complete remarks here.

And that’s it for the 2023 Chicago 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Thanks again to the Alexa, Robin, Michael, and Leland at the Harold Washington Library, Stephanie at City Lit for bookselling after the event, my co-host Keir Graff . . . and most of all, the young filmmakers and the teachers, librarians, and families who helped them. Remember, it’s never to early to start making your movies for next year’s screening. They’re due January 2024, but you can turn them in anytime. See you next year!

The 90-Second Newbery relies on private donations and grants to keep going. It’s only through your generosity that we can continue bringing public screenings and book-to-movie workshops to libraries and schools nationwide. You can make your (tax-deductible!) donation here. Donations are handled through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.