bride of the tornado cover dare to know cover order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Moviemaking at the Treehouse Museum: Third Time’s A Charm!

July 17, 2023

It’s one of my favorite times of the year: when I get to visit the Treehouse Children’s Museum in Ogden, Utah to teach a weeklong filmmaking class for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

I first taught this class at the Treehouse in 2019 (I blogged about it and posted the movies here) and again in 2022 (blog post and movies here). It’s so much fun working with creative kids on these movies that quickly tell the stories of Newbery-winning books—usually with a weird twist.

Six young filmmakers participated this year: Brynn, Beau, Kaitlyn, Parker, Georgia, and Beatrice. (I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Parker, Georgia, and Beatrice—they are repeat customers from 2022!)

You’ll notice another adult in the pictures. That’s the creative and capable Caden, who helped me teach the class. I couldn’t have done it without his smarts, dedication, and patience.

Visiting Ogden gave me the chance to catch up with my friends at the Treehouse—Lynne Goodwin, Rob Goodwin, Michael Goodwin, and Wes Whitby—and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Ogden in the summer. (I’m also treating this sojourn as a writing retreat.) I’m grateful for the hospitality and kindness everyone has shown me.

Five days of scripting, shooting, and editing culminated with a screening at the Treehouse. Afterwards the kids’ families took me out for ice cream at the 100-year-old Farr Better Ice Cream around the corner. What a friendly town! (I had huckleberry ice cream, which I only find when I’m out west.)

So let’s check out the videos!

This first one is based on Kate Dicamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures . . . but retold in the style of Star Wars! I loved the go-for-broke performances of the various actors, especially their commitment to the crazy battle scenes. You can read the complete write-up about this movie on the 90-Second Newbery website. Here’s the movie itself:

You might be left scratching your head: what does this have to do with the original book Flora & Ulysses? It actually all corresponds quite neatly:


Kate DiCamillo’s Book Our 90-Second Newbery Movie
Flora loves to read comic books—an activity her romance novel-writing mother disapproves of. Scavenger Rey from the Star Wars sequels loves to fix droids—an activity her galaxy-dominating grandmother Emperor Palpatine disapproves of.
Looking out her window, Flora spots a squirrel getting run over by a vacuum cleaner. She saves the squirrel and names it Ulysses. Looking out her window on the forest moon of Endor, Rey spots a squirrel getting crushed by falling pieces of the exploding second Death Star (a space disaster which naturally also kills a bunch of Ewoks, as we see in the borrowed footage from a classic Robot Chicken skit).
Flora becomes best friends with Ulysses. The mother hates the squirrel and wants it dead. She orders her hapless ex-husband to kill Ulysses. Rey becomes close with droid-Ulysses. Palpatine wants to turn Ulysses into “Darth Ulysses,” or have him destroyed. She orders Kylo Ren to do the job.
Ulysses causes a ruckus in a donut shop. Ulysses causes a light saber brawl in the alien-filled cantina on Tatooine.
Ulysses has a helpful visit with Dr. Meescham, and defeats a vicious cat. Ulysses has a helpful visit with old hermit Luke Skywalker on his isolated island, and defeats a stormtrooper.

See?! IT ALL FITS! (Wondering how we did those special effects with the lightsabers and the Emperor’s force lightning? Learn how to do it yourself in this helpful video.)

The next movie we made was loosely but creatively based on Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Newbery Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins. In this version, Mr. Popper has an alter ego of “Penguinman,” a Batman-style caped crusader who fights crime. I loved the enthusiastic, true-to-the-source-material performances in this one: the hapless scientists, the cackling villain, the sidekick’s goofy enthusiasm, and of course the hero’s stoic cool—especially in his iconic “suiting-up” scene, complete with stern looks and bombastic theme music!

Make sure you read the movie’s write-up on the 90-Second Newbery website, and here is the movie itself:

The third movie we made was based on Christina Soontornvat’s 2021 Newbery Honor Book A Wish in the Dark. The original book is loosely based on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables but set in Chattana, a Thai-inspired fantasy city. This adaptation transforms the story further, and tells it in terms of The Wizard of Oz! Really good cinematography, resourceful use of sets and costumes at the Treehouse, and acting in this one—especially the way the filmmakers recruited younger patrons of the museum to be “munchkins” in one scene! You can read the write-up of this movie on the 90-Second Newbery website, and here’s the movie:

But wait! There’s more. Those three 90-Second Newbery movies aren’t the only movies we made during the week. On the first day of class, I gave everyone a filmmaking exercise: to script, shoot, edit, and screen—all in just two hours—a very short movie about finding a treasure in the Treehouse. Could they do it? Yes!

To get the students up to speed, I gave a quick-and-dirty lesson in moviemaking, with my Crash Course in Cinematography and tips on Breaking Your Story and Writing the Script (with an emphasis on Dan Harmon’s story circle), all taken from my step-by-step “How To Make A Great 90-Second Newbery” (which you can find here).

We broke into two moviemaking groups. Both groups did very impressive work, especially considering that they completed the whole project, soup to nuts, in only two hours! Here is the treasure-hunting movie by Beatrice, Beau, and Parker:

And here is the treasure-hunting movie by Brynn, Georgia, and Kaitlyn:

Back in the 2022 session, we had some extra time on the last day, and the kids used that time to make a goofy nonsense video. As I said, some of the same kids were in the class this year too, and so they made this kinda-sorta nonsense sequel to the original nonsense movie:

And that’s it for the 90-Second Newbery summer camp at the Treehouse! Thanks again to Lynne, Rob, Michael, Wes, Caden, and everyone at the Treehouse for their help—and especially big thanks to the young filmmakers and their families! I loved teaching this class, and I’m proud of the movies the kids made. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I’m looking forward to coming back to the Treehouse Museum again and again! And I can’t wait to share these movies at next year’s screenings.

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, schools, and museums nationwide. You can make your (tax-deductible!) donation to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival here. Donations are handled through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.