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

The Order of Oddfish


The WONDER and TERROR of the 2024 Chicago 90-Second Newbery Festival!

March 13, 2024

We had a ball last Saturday with Chicago’s 13th annual 90-Second Newbery Flm Festival at the Harold Washington Library Center downtown! Thanks so much to Alexa Hamilton, Ana Santoyo, Michael O’Connor, and everyone at the Chicago Public Library who helped make this event happen. Thanks also to Emma Oxnevad, who wrote a fabulous article about the 90-Second Newbery for the Chicago Reader, and Web Behrens who also did a great write-up about us for Block Club Chicago. Thanks to them, we had a nice big crowd!

And big thanks to my co-host Mary Winn Heider, author of kids’ books The Stupendous Switcheroo, The Mortification of Fovea Munson, and The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. She lit up the stage in our opening skit, in which we come face-to-face with the new, redesigned, anthropomorphic Newbery Medal—”Lil’ Newby”—a talking award who has an unfortunate tendency to make up bizarre lies about past Newbery winners. E.B. White, shoplifter? Arnold Lobel, arsonist? Check it out:

Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of Cricket magazine, kind of the New Yorker of children’s literature. Thanks to Blouke Carus from the Hegeler Carus Mansion for giving a short speech in which he read aloud fan letters to Cricket magazine from throughout the years. (Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of that.) Blouke even brought copies of Cricket and its spinoff magazines, and they were available for free in the lobby after the show! They all got snapped up pretty quickly, too!

It was kind of a harrowing day, actually. It was my birthday too, and I nearly didn’t make it to my own birthday party afterward, because my car died while zipping along on Lakeshore Drive on my way home from the screening—my brakes stopped working, the engine halted, I could barely control it—but luckily I got off to safety. Then I had to wait for three hours for a tow truck while missing my own birthday party! But all’s well that ends well. Thanks to everyone who came to the party, especially those who stuck around to when I finally got there!

All right, let’s check out the actual movies!

Just as every year, house team The Leland Street Players turned in a movie, and this one is based on Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Newbery Medal winner Bridge to Terabithia. The book is about Jess (a boy who loves running) becoming friends with Leslie (the quirky new girl in town). Together Jess and Leslie create an imaginary land in the woods they call Terabithia, which they access by swinging across a river on a rope. But one day the rope breaks, and Leslie falls into the river and dies. This movie’s twist: it tells the story from the point of view of the monsters who inhabit in the imaginary land of Terabithia. And they’ve got a problem: apparently Leslie isn’t the only kid who has met a grisly end there. What happens when the Terabithians can’t keep their fantasy realm safe, and they come under investigation by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services?

Check out the full review of the movie on the 90-Second Newbery website.

Chicagoan Lily Manning has been making astonishingly elaborate stop-motion movies for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival for years: My Father’s Dragon in 2021, Along Came a Dog in 2022, Shadow of a Bull in 2023, and now her most longest and most ambitious movie, based on Robin McKinley’s 1985 Newbery Medal Winner The Hero and the Crown:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “This movie is an all-time great for the film festival, and an astonishing capstone to an impressive 90-Second Newbery career!”

The next movie is by Mack and Archer from Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It’s based on Paul Fleischman’s 1989 Newbery Medal Winner Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. The original book features poems about insects that are intended to be read aloud by two people. Now, poems about bugs may be interesting, but what’s even more interesting are poems about ninjas, dragons, and throwing stars!

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the complete review here), “This movie replaces the book’s poems with new poems about a ‘ninja’s quest,’ resourcefully using green screen to put the characters at a beach, in a hand-drawn battle or castle, and other locales. There’s even a wonderfully animated stop-motion Lego dragon—super cool! . . . Everyone looked like they were having a good time, and that feeling is infectious, and gives the movie its charm.”

The next movie is by Lauren, Frances, and Thuan from Chicago, and it’s based on Lloyd Alexander’s 1969 Newbery Medal Winner, the sword-and-sorcery epic The High King:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “All the performances were full of fun energy and committed emotion, and I was amused at how Eilonwy was played by a dog! . . . Elaborate and colorful costumes, hilarious acting, exciting action scenes, a tight script, lots of humor!”

The next two movies were made in cooperation with the Chicago arts organization Play In A Book. This first one, by Grades 5 – 8 In Ms. Bradley’s class of Harold Washington Elementary, is based on BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford. The original book is about the real-life Henry Brown, who in 1849 escaped slavery by hiding in a wooden box and mailing himself from Virginia to Philadelphia. This updated version has a futuristic twist: instead of Henry Brown, it’s “Henrietta Brown,” and instead of escaping slavery in a box, Henrietta is teleported off of Earth into outer space:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “Impressive visual effects throughout, from use of stock footage for the establishing shot of the ring spaceship orbiting Earth, to the plentiful green screen that portrayed the aliens in their ship as well as various places on Earth where the enslaved people are being held . . . The acting performances were committed and engaged and charismatic . . . A creative, resourceful, and emotionally affecting movie!”

Play in a Book also helped to make the next one. It’s by Ms. O’Neal’s students in Grades 5 – 6 at South Shore Fine Arts Academy, and it’s based on Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Newbery Medal Winner A Wrinkle in Time:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “An atmospheric, sometimes creepy, but ultimately uplifting retelling of the story . . . The performances of the various characters tracked accurately with the characters in the book: Meg guarded and hostile but ultimately embracing love, Calvin level-headed and supportive, Charles Wallace guileless and abstracted.”

The next movie is by the fifth graders at Elgin Academy in Elgin, Illinois, and it’s based on Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Hoot:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “This movie hit most of the plot points of the book quickly and entertainingly, with superior cinematography and brisk editing! . . . There was an effusive energy in the performances that made it fun to watch.”

Just as every year, we received a great crop of videos from Lincoln Hall Middle School in Lincolnwood, Illinois! This first is based on Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux by Jessica L. and Jessica K., and it’s done in the style of a retro point-and-click computer game:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “The computer graphics look authentic to that kind of retro game, and the quick frequent changes to the scenes kept up the visual interest . . . All the voice performances were clear and energetic and told the story compellingly. I loved the original concept behind this and its ingenious execution!”

Here’s another one from Lincoln Hall Middle School, based on Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal Winner Holes, by Tristen N, Hylan L, Yianni F, and Ali M.:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “This movie really stood out because of its superior cinematography and editing . . . This movie was fun and entertaining from beginning to end.”

The next one is by Peter T. from Lincolnwood, and it’s based on Donna Barba Higuera’s 2022 Newbery Medal Winner The Last Cuentista:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “From the very beginning I knew this would be a good movie, with the stylized, horror-movie-feeling titles with scary music in the background . . . There were a lot of creepy and atmopsheric choices that worked very well, like the reverse exposure effect on the leader character’s speech, and the use of the medbay from the video game Among Us to represent when Petra is working in the lab . . . Entertaining and cool!”

Finally from Lincolnwood, we have Jerry Craft’s 2020 Newbery Medal Winner New Kid as adapted by Leila, Chii, Ruth, and Yusuf:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “A goofy, brisk, frequently funny animated adaptation of the story! I liked the simple, black-and-white style of drawing, which was close enough to the characters from the original graphic novel to be recognizable, but done in your own style.”

We started this movie roundup with a Bridge to Terabithia adaptation, so let’s end with one! This one is by East Lake Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (read the full review here), “The script sprinted through the story efficiently and sometimes very amusingly . . . The strength of this movie came from its engaging and believable performances, especially with Jess, who held the movie together with credible adolescent prickliness, tenderness, and angst, and Leslie, who had a free-spirited charisma.”

And those were the local entries that were featured in the Chicago 90-Second Newbery Film Festival this year! Thanks to the young filmmakers who created the movies, and the teachers, parents, librarians, and other adults who assisted them.

I hope everyone makes a movie for next year! Anyone can do it. The movies are due in January 2025, but you can turn them in any time. You can find complete details about the film festival, including tips on how to make your own movies, at the 90-Second Newbery website! See you next year!

The 90-Second Newbery relies on private donations to keep going! It’s only through your generosity that we can continue bringing our free 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.

Chicago 90-Second Newbery this Saturday—and I’m at Bookies this Thursday!

March 4, 2024

It’ll be a busy week! This weekend is the Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. We’ve been doing this for 13 years now! It’ll be at 2 pm this Saturday, March 9th at the Harold Washington Library Center (400 S State St.), with co-host Mary Winn Heider (author of The Stupendous Switcheroo and more). Get your FREE tickets here.

Want a sneak preview? Every year I make a 90-Second Newbery movie with Lucy, Ingrid, and all their neighborhood friends. This year’s is based on Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Newbery Medal winner Bridge to Terabithia. We all remember how, in the original book, Jess’s free-spirited friend Leslie dies by falling from a swinging rope. This movie tells the story from the point of view of the whimsical monsters who inhabit the imaginary land of Terabithia. Apparently Leslie isn’t the only kid who has met a grisly end there, and the monsters are frustrated at how kids keep dying in their fantasy realm. Will Terabithia be shut down by federal inspectors? Fantastic and hilarious performances from everyone here!

(Liked the movie? Want to see more stuff like this? Come to this Saturday’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening.)

But that’s not all I’m up to: this Thursday, I’ll be appearing at Bookies Chicago (10324 S. Western Avenue) with award-winning horror author Cynthia Pelayo to talk about my latest novel Bride of the Tornado (named one of the Chicago Tribune‘s “Top 10 Books of 2023”) and Cynthia’s many scary and excellent books. That’s Thursday, March 7 at 6 pm! See you there.

Finally, last week I was at Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con. It was a blast! (Thanks to my friends Joe and Madeleine for putting me up at their house, and to Joe in particular for driving me all the way from Portland to Seattle . . . it’s a long story.) At the con, I appeared on the “It’s Getting Dark” panel with fellow horror novelists Caitlin Starling, Claire Legrand, Autumn Krause, and Peter V. Brett. So many folks came! I was pleased to get to talk with these great authors, and everyone at ECCC was wonderful.

While I was there, I had the chance to browse the art booths, and on the recommendation of my friend Anne-Line, I stopped by the booth of Natalie Andrewson. I thought her art was amazing, so I bought a print! And she was a peach.

Overall, a great weekend. Now I’m looking forward to an intense week here in Chicago. Hopefully I’ll see you at Bookie’s this Thursday, and/or at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival this Saturday!

I’m at Emerald City Comic Con this Friday—and I’m on some podcasts!

February 26, 2024

I want to take a quick break from 90-Second Newbery Film Festival updates to give some news about upcoming Bride of the Tornado appearances!

This Friday, March 1, I’ll be at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I’m speaking on the “It’s Getting Dark” panel with authors Autumn Krause, Peter V. Brett, and Claire Legrand. This panel will be at 5:15 pm in Room 434 of the Seattle Convention Center Summit Building, followed by a book signing at 6:15 pm on Level 2 at the University Book Store (Booth #20627). The last time I was in Seattle was marvelous, so I’m really looking forward to this!

And I have other events coming up all over the country. On Thursday, March 7 I’m in conversation with big-deal Chicago horror writer Cynthia Pelayo (my third event with her!) at Bookie’s Bookstore (10324 S. Western Avenue, Chicago, IL) at 6 pm. And two days later, on Saturday, March 9 (my birthday!) I’m hosting the Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival with Mary Winn Heider.

Further down the line, I’m doing author events at Porter Square Books in Boston (on Thursday, April 4) and Good Neighbor Bookstore in Lakewood, New York (on Wednesday, April 17) leading up to the 90-Second Newbery Boston screening and Rochester, NY screening respectively. Check out my events page for the full rundown!

In the meantime, here are some online appearances I’ve made recently! I first met philosopher Greg Sadler when my sci-fi novel Dare to Know came out. He dug it, we became friends, and he ended up doing an excellent interview with me on his “Worlds of Speculative Fiction” podcast.

Now that Bride of the Tornado is out, Greg has had me on for another episode, in which he reads from passages of both Dare to Know and Bride of the Tornado and teases out the philosophical ideas of both books. As Greg says in his post about this episode, “I had the chance to interview him about his influences, his novels, what role philosophy plays, and a number of other subjects, and clips from that are woven into the video itself.” Check out the video, but put aside some time for it—it’s almost two hours long!

In Greg’s interview with me, I mention the influence that G.K. Chesterton’s short, weird, visionary novel The Man Who Was Thursday had on me. And that made me remember that I had been on a different podcast, called The Legendarium, in which they invited me to speak about that very book . . . but I had never mentioned it on this blog!

This episode is a somewhat shorter than the above. In it, I talk about my personal life in a bit more detail than usual, and use it to make my own idiosyncratic points about Chesterton’s very strange book. Watch and listen here:

(Actually, I’ve been a guest on The Legendarium twice; the first time, I gave a talk about “Determinism in Science Fiction and Fantasy,” and I floated my theory that there are four distinct types of predestination in fiction: “Durable,” “Fragile,” “Volitional,” and “Broken.” You can listen to that here.)

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today. See you in Seattle, I hope . . . or at some other event in the next few busy months!

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