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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival 2023: NEW JERSEY!

April 28, 2023

Keep the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival going with a tax-deductible donation here. Donations are handled through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

On April 16 we had our first-ever New Jersey screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! In the fall of last year, I had visited schools and libraries all over the state to introduce students to concept and to encourage them to participate. It really paid off with some fantastic entries, which we screened at Trenton’s New Jersey State Museum—pretty fancy!

My co-host for the Trenton show was the same as for my Brooklyn show the day before, the iconic and hilarious Chris Grabenstein. Chris has written tons of kids’ books, including the super-popular Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series and the Smartest Kid in the World series. Chris has lots of onstage experience—he was an improv comedian in the 1980s!—and he totally brought the fire in Trenton, just as he had in Brooklyn the day before. Here we are with some of the young filmmakers after the show:

Honestly, I was a little nervous about the screening—Chris got a flat tire on the way to Trenton, we didn’t have much time to rehearse, and we had a technical snafu right before the show—but the staff at the New Jersey State Museum were total pros, and everything came together in the end. I was proud to show off these Jersey-made videos, as well as videos from all over the country. (Unfortunately, I forgot to ask someone to record Chris’s and my song-and-dance opening skit about book banning. If you want to see it, here I am doing the same skit with Keir Graff in Utah.)

Let’s get to those New Jersey videos! To kick off, check out this entry from Community Middle School in Plainsboro, in which Emina, Tarik, Laila, and Ajnur take on E.B. White’s 1953 Newbery Honor Book Charlotte’s Web. In the original story, Wilbur the pig is worried because the farmer is fattening him up to butcher him and eat him. Charlotte the spider helps Wilbur by weaving messages in her web like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” that make folks think Wilbur is important—and it also gives the pig confidence.

In this movie, though, Charlotte has a different plan for helping Wilbur: teaching him self-defense! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Karate Pig:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I loved the training montage (set to ‘The Eye of the Tiger,’ natch) in which Charlotte toughens Wilbur up, teaches him spiritual techniques, and shows him how to fight . . . The script was tight and often funny, and the cinematography and editing were smooth and professional. The performances were fantastic: Wilbur’s nervous hysteria, Charlotte’s calm Zen-like demeanor, and the goose’s mocking bullying.”

Darcy, Hannah, Harper, Jessica, Gillian, Ilenia, Juliana, Kathryn, and Emme of Bernardsville Middle School made this version of Lois Lowry’s 1990 Newbery Medal Winner Number the Stars:

The judges said of this movie (full review here), “A solid, skillful retelling of the story. The script hit the necessary plot points quickly and effectively and with occasional humor . . . All the performances were overflowing with energy and commitment—and sometimes weird accents!—which made it all the more fun to watch.”

But that’s not the only movie we got from Bernardsville! This second one is by Eli and Owen, in which they adapt Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses:

In their review, the judges said “This is my favorite kind of 90-Second Newbery movie: one that takes the basic premise of a book, but then zooms off into a completely crazy direction . . . the plot gets interrupted when an armed agent of ‘Animal Control’ shows up at Flora’s house to track down the squirrel . . . What follows is a sequence of chase scenes and physical comedy (sped up and set to the ‘Yakety Sax’ song from Benny Hill) that is fun to watch and genuinely funny.”

We received four really great and impressive movies from Deerfield School in Mountainside. You should really check them all out, but we featured two at the screening in Trenton. This first one is by Hayden, Reagan, Ryan, and Michael, and it’s an adaptation of Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery Medal Winner When You Reach Me. If you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize that this movie amusingly reverses the plot of the story: here, Sal punches kid-Marcus, which causes time-traveling old-man-Marcus to push Sal into the path of oncoming vehicle, as opposed to the original story, where time-traveling old-man-Marcus saves Sal from a traffic accident. Confused? It’ll all become clear:

As the judges wrote on the 90-Second Newbery website (complete review here), “Excellent camera work and editing throughout this movie, especially in the scene with the car crash . . . Smart, funny, and inventive from beginning to end!”

The other movie from Bernardsville that we featured was Ben, Gregory, and Lawrence’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Newbery Medal Winner A Wrinkle in Time—done entirely with Legos!

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website, “It was clever how the moviemakers made the characters ‘move’ by manipulating them with plastic sticks, which made some cool effects possible, like when Mrs. Which flies in, or when the paperboy on Camazotz flies away on his bike . . . The script was brisk, swift, and to the point . . . Entertaining, and hit a lot of the plot points effectively.”

Speaking of A Wrinkle in Time, I wanted to feature another movie I received based on that book—this one by students of North Bergen STEAM Academy Middle School. You can check out all five of that school’s really wonderful movies here, but I want highlight Tiarah, Andrea, Vincent, Helen, Mia, Luciana and Tiffany’s movie in particular, which seems to cover the first half of the story:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (complete review here), “From the very beginning, I was impressed by the assured cinematography and editing . . . The music and sound effects throughout were very well done, such as the thunder and rain and dog barking . . . I was also impressed by the special effect of when Charles Wallace’s eyes turn black when he is hypnotized by the person with red eyes! My only wish is for this very well-made movie to have kept going all the way to the end of the book . . . More please!”

Finally, I’d like to feature West Windsor Plainsboro District’s Jenil, Kovid, Arnav, Sachchit, Atiksh, Maahir, and Tarun’s adaptation of Stephanie S. Tolan’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Surviving the Applewhites:

As the judges wrote on the 90-Second Newbery website, “Bizarre and eccentric, super-accelerated, seemingly on the verge of collapse, but fascinating to watch—hey wait, this movie is a lot like the Applewhite family themselves! All the performances were wonderfully enthusiastic, with infectious energy . . . I was particularly amused by how badly ‘Priscilla’ sings ‘Climb Every Mountain’! This movie whips through most of the important plot points of the book with chaotically but with a lot of charm.”

A that wraps up the New Jersey entries that we featured at the very first New Jersey 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! (We also showed a lot of other movies too, from across the country.) Thanks so much to Jen Nelson, the New Jersey State Librarian, for bringing the 90-Second Newbery to the Garden State. Thanks also to Sharon Rawlins (the Youth Services Specialist of the NJ Library Development Bureau) for being the champion of the 90-Second Newbery who spread the word and got kids and teachers interested in making movies for the screening. Thanks to Taniel Bennett and the staff at the auditorium of the New Jersey State Museum for helping everything run smoothly. Thanks again to my co-host Chris Grabenstein. And obviously, my gratitude and awe to the talented young filmmakers . . . and the teachers, librarians, and families who assisted them!

And now that you’ve got the bug, it’s never too early to make a movie for NEXT year’s 90-Second Newbery! They’re due January 2024, but you can turn them in anytime. Until next year, Jersey!

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.