James Kennedy's Blog

May 10, 2017













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Excuse me for my self-indulgence, but I love that first picture above. I look like the dictator of some kind of insane cartoon wonderland. Which is, to be sure, where I rightfully belong.



In fact, the picture was taken at the very first screening of this year’s season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival—which was on January 21, 2017 in San Antonio, at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre! (I know, I know. This post is way overdue.)



In the second picture above, I join my co-host Nikki Loftin in congratulating Mya Prado, the grand prize winner of the San Antonio 90-Second Newbery, for her great animated adaptation of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes. More about her, and the other winners and filmmakers, below!



This is our second year in San Antonio. Thanks to Laura Cole and her team at Bibliotech, Bexar County’s Digital Library, for bringing this all together. Thanks also to Christa Aldrich and everyone at H-E-B Read 3, HEB Texas Grocery’s literacy program, for sponsoring the program. And special thanks to Judge Nelson Wolff of Bexar County for supporting the project from the beginning. Here are Christa and Laura introducing the program:










And a gigantic thanks to Nikki Loftin (author of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, Wish Girl and Nightingale’s Nest—check out all of her books here). Just like last year, she sang like a diva, she danced like a dream, she cracked wise like a pro, and she generally classed up the whole show! I love co-hosting the film festival with Nikki (check out how she brought down the house with last year’s opening)!



Below is a picture of Nikki and me doing this year’s opening skit with our audience volunteer. In it, we discover a machine that creates future Newbery-winning books out of thin air . . . but at a gruesome price! Unfortunately I don’t have a good video of the skit in San Antonio, but if you’re dying to see it, you can see the same skit done at the Minneapolis screening with me, author Keir Graff, and this year’s Newbery Medal winner Kelly Barnhill here. (It’s too bad, because Nikki and our young volunteer (whose name I’ve unfortunately misplaced) really nailed it!)










This year’s 90-Second Newbery got a jolt of serious star power. Famous director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn) taped this introduction that we showed at the top of the show. I’m so honored and grateful! Come to think of it, it makes sense that Robert Rodriguez would understand the value of the 90-Second Newbery. After all, he made his start by directing the feature El Mariachi, which he shot with a budget of $7000 (!!!), a movie that went on to make millions and indeed, his name. The kids who make 90-Second Newberys are like Robert Rodriguez: perhaps with limited resources starting out, armed with little but the love of filmmaking and the passion to tell a story. They too are finding success. (Full disclosure: I saw El Mariachi when I was in college (I think 1993?) and I remember being blown away by it even before I knew it had been made on a shoestring. I like many of Rodriguez’s movies, but the one that has a special place in my heart is his Planet Terror section of Grindhouse, an adrenaline-soaked gory thrill ride. So good.) Thanks, Robert Rodriguez, for this inspiring introduction!










And of course, thanks most of all to all the kids for the fantastic movies they made—and the audience who came out, packing the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre!



The San Antonio screening is different than all the other 90-Second Newbery screenings because, thanks to the generosity of HEB, we’re able to offer cash prizes for the best movies we received. Let’s check those out.



There was an honorable mention for this adaptation of Beverly Cleary’s 1984 Medal Winner Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Noah Cotton of Alamo Heights High School (full review on the 90-Second Newbery blog here). He won $250 for his school!

















Third place and $500 went to Elijah, Vincent, Josselin, and Esteban of San Antonio ISD for their adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner Tale of Despereaux (full review here):

















Second place and $750 went to this great adaptation of Jacqueline Kelly’s 2010 Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Allison Reyna of Alamo Heights High School. (full review here).

















First place, and a check of $1500, went to Mya Prado of South San ISD for her animated adaptation of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes (full review on the 90-Second Newbery site here):

















I’m thrilled and proud of all the great movies we’ve received from Texas this year! Here are a few more notable ones, below. (I wanted to feature them all, but you can only have so much embedded video in one blog post.)



Joshua, Tallulah, Kalea, Bryan, and Professor Floyd of Mission Academy turned in this great adaptation of Scott O’Dell, 1968 Honor Book The Black Pearl:









Here Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures gets a great adaptation from Hannah, Oluchi, Olivia, Valerie, Mykhi, Madison, Julian, and Ryan of Frances M. Rhodes Elementary:










And Pershing Elementary School did a very entertaining adaptation of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Medal Winner Shiloh here:










I’d love to show all the great local movies that we featured at the San Antonio screening, but there simply isn’t room! But you should check out all these other worthy entries:




Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White, 1953 Honor Book) adapted by Hiram and Jason



Princess Academy (Shannon Hale, 2006 Honor Book) adapted by Sofia, Karen, and Sarah by Martinez Films



The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1994 Medal Winner) adapted by Noah, Alyssa, Adam, and Keona of Creekwood Middle School



The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1994 Medal Winner) adapted by Camille McWhorter of Creekwood Middle School



Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson, 1978 Medal Winner) adapted by Daniella Garcia’s class of South San ISD – Kazen Middle School



The Slave Dancer (Paula Fox, 1974 Medal Winner) adapted by Aaliyah and Giselle of Scobee Middle School



The Upstairs Room (Johanna Reiss, 1973 Honor Book) adapted by Juanita, Yisselle, and Yuliana of Dwight Middle School, SSAISD



Last Stop On Market Street (Matt de la Peña, 2016 Medal Winner) adapted by Hannah, Ty, Victoria, Anaya, John, Francisco, Mr. Sandrin and Mr. Smith



One-Eyed Cat (Paula Fox, 1985 Honor Book) adapted by Elliott Brooks of Shepard Middle School, SSAISD



The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1994 Medal Winner) adapted by Kyle, James, Elaon, and Adam



Last Stop On Market Street (Matt de la Peña, 2016 Medal Winner) adapted by Emelyn and Hector of Margil Elementary School



The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1994 Medal Winner) adapted by Catherine, Skye, Austin, and Brigham



The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1994 Medal Winner) adapted by Spencer, Kim, Rebecca, and Daniel of Green Table Productions



Want to see more pictures of the day? Dave Wilson has photos for you here.



And here’s the closing montage of all the videos we showed at the San Antonio 2017 screening. Looking forward to seeing what you all make for next year! Get working now—the deadline of January 12, 2018 is coming sooner than you think!










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Published on May 10, 2017 20:47 • 50 views

May 5, 2017






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On February 17 and 18, the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival had its SIXTH ANNUAL screenings in San Francisco and Oakland. I hosted them with fellow Chicago author Keir Graff (The Matchstick Castle) and San Francisco’s own Marcus Ewert (Mummy Cat).



Keir gamely co-hosted many screenings with me in 2017. Marcus has co-hosted the Bay Area screenings with me the last few years. They both rip up the stage every time. The beast of Chicago and the jewel of San Francisco!



In the picture below, Marcus, Keir, and I goof off during the opening skit, assisted by our audience volunteer (whose name, I’m afraid to say, I’ve misplaced—but she did a great job!). It’s a scene in which we discover a machine that can create Newbery-winning books out of thin air, but at a grisly price:










Unfortunately the videos of the opening skit in the Bay Area didn’t turn out. But if you want to get the drift of what we were doing, the video of the opening skit in Minneapolis represents it well!



Thanks to Carla Kozak, Christy Estrovitz, Cristina Mitra, and Meghan Monahan of the San Francisco Public Library for bringing us out for yet another year. And thanks to Erica Siskind and Nina Lindsay of the Oakland Public Library for bringing us to the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library too. Special thanks to Summer Dawn Laurie and Katherine Megna-Weber of Books Inc. for doing the bookselling at both events. San Francisco is so welcoming and full of positive attitude. I love doing the film festival here!










This year we had a record number of San Francisco entries. Let’s check them out!



You may remember Felix and Taytum from last year. They did a slick, genre-bending adaptation of Jean Craighead George’s 1960 Honor Book My Side of the Mountain—with the story’s setting ingeniously shifted to outer space, so that it became My Side of the Wormhole.



Felix and Taytum’s submission this year uses Kate DiCamillo’s (non-Newbery-winning) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as a kind of framing device to ambitiously shuttle between three different Newbery honorees: Sterling North’s 1964 Honor Book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, Jack Gantos’ 2012 Medal Winner Dead End in Norvelt, and in neat bit of twisty recursion, their old adaptation of My Side of the Mountain:










As the judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, (check out full review here), “Stylish and intriguing . . . pushing the boundaries of what can be done with a 90-Second Newbery . . . beautifully shot and beautifully edited . . . The music choice was propulsive and inspired . . . The rewinding reference to last year’s entry of My Side of the Mountain was totally ingenious . . . An adventurous, experimental, exhilarating entry!”



On his own, Felix also adapted Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, with a hilarious twist: Toad isn’t a gentle swamp creature, but rather a stylish hit man in the 1990s Tarantino mold:










On the 90-Second Newbery blog, the judges said (in part), “A brilliant twist . . . Toad isn’t a bumbling, sweetly foolish amphibian who is friends with a frog, but rather a cold-hearted urban murderer-for-hire who is apparently friends with nobody! And instead of Toad crossing off from his list innocent items like ‘eat breakfast’ or ‘take walk,’ it’s a list of plants he must shoot! It was hilarious how the low stakes of targets (a flower, bush, and tree) ironically undercut the intense action-movie style of the movie.”



What other Bay Area entries were shown? How about Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes, here adapted by Armando, Alexi, Chloe, Jazmin, Arianna, Reina, Raymond, and Jaime of Salesian College Preparatory in Richmond, CA:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said (read whole review here), “I like how this movie included the material about the stuff that happened in the past that caused the curse to fall on Stanley Yelnats—too many 90-Second Newbery videos skip that important backstory! The green screen was resourcefully deployed and the background music pulled the whole video together and made it feel of one piece. There were many great moments, like the whirling transformation of Katherine Barlow into Kissin’ Kate, and the exaggerated double-take when Stanley finds out Zero’s name is short for Zeroni, and when the ‘lizard’ bites Kissin’ Kate.”



Here is Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner Tale of Desperaux as adapted by Aarav P., Astrid M., Steven L., and Vanessa B. of Commodore Sloat Elementary:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery praised the movie (full review here), saying, “I loved how everyone raps their lines in verse . . . The way that Roscuro sings ‘Soup and the baaaaanquet haaallll’ was particularly fun. All of the performers were charismatic and committed and fun to watch, and many of the verses were ingenious!”



Here’s another Kate DiCamillo adaptation! It’s her 2014 Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, as done by Omara Rosenfeld, Karina Anders, and Lilah Anders:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here) claimed it was “ingenious to have ‘Ulysses’ be not a squirrel, but an astronaut! (Or a ‘squirrel-astronaut.’) The performances of all the characters were so fun—I especially liked it when Tootie said, ‘I just sucked up a space squirrel!’ . . . The slow-motion credits sequence of whipping hair around over ‘Space Oddity’ was a perfect way to end it.”



I’m always up for some good stop-motion. Atom Glover does not disappoint with his adaptation of Ellen Raskin’s 1979 Medal Winner The Westing Game:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here) called this a “fantastic movie, very stylish and impressive to watch! I like how the movie deploys so many tools to get the story across: through live action, voice over, subtitles, and of course elaborate stop-motion Legos . . . I love how sprawling and elaborate the car crash scene is! The movie took an unwieldy, complex mystery and boiled it down to its essence while staying true to its spirit.”



Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street is actually set in San Francisco, so of course we got an adaptation of it from San Francisco! It’s by D’Arion Curry-Matthews at TheMIX@SFPL:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here) called this “stylish, with beautiful cinematography! Great establishing shots around San Francisco at the beginning, and evocative music choice. I appreciated the unforced, natural performances from the actors, and the movie is leisurely in a good way . . . A true pro entry.”



Every year Allison Halla of St. Andrews Episcopal in Saratoga has her students make movies for the film festival. This year St. Andrews really came through, with a record thirteen videos! It was hard to make a choice about which movies to screen from this excellent haul. Let’s check out the three that we showed at the Bay Area screenings, but you can see all of the St. Andrews videos here.



First up, how about Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Harry and Som:










The judges said (full review here), “Good use of stock footage, stock photos, background music and sound effects to enhance the movie. I appreciate that you took the time to get the right props for costumes (the headsets for the pilots, the sunglasses, etc.) I like the way the movie meticulously builds its story, step by step, giving this momentous historical event the sober treatment it deserves. ”



Have you ever seen the viral video of the bottle flipping trick? Here’s another, rather stranger version of Bomb this time by Ben, Ethan, Ian, and Anthony that takes its inspiration from that video:










As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, “The twist behind this movie is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen for a 90-Second Newbery—replacing the idea of inventing the atomic bomb with inventing the water-bottle flipping trick . . . I especially loved the scene that was like a Rube Goldberg machine, the chain reaction of one thing smacking into the next (even with a Newton’s cradle!) leading to the bottle plopping on just the right spot . . . Creative and resourceful.”



There’s just one more movie I’d like to feature today, and it’s an adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Medal Winner The Crossover by Sina, Tyler, Tristan, and Quinn of St. Andrews Episcopal:










As the judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said (in part), “There was really good acting throughout this, especially by the two brothers . . . a chemistry that feels like family. I like the way the music comes in when JB makes his move on Sweet Tea, especially the Katy Perry bit . . . I really love the doctor who keeps changing his mind on the diagnosis: ‘He’s gonna die! He’s alive! He’s dead!’ . . . Great work!”



And that’s it for the Bay Area screenings for this year! Thanks for making it happen, I can’t wait for next year! (Remember: the deadline for entries is January 12, 2018!)



Here’s the closing montage of all the movies that were shown at the San Francisco screening:










And here’s the closing montage at the Oakland screening:










The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive. Want us to keep doing this? Make a tax-deductible donation here.

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Published on May 05, 2017 07:16 • 2 views

April 24, 2017






The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive. Want us to keep doing this? Make a tax-deductible donation here.



That picture above? It’s from the first ever Asheville, NC 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on April 22, 2017! From left to right, you can see co-host Alan Gratz, me, and audience volunteer Kayenta onstage at the Pack Memorial Library during our opening skit.



Every year, the 90-Second Newbery expands into new cities. This year, due to the efforts of Elliot Weiner, we added Asheville to the list. Elliot is a man of many talents. He used to lead groups of kids to participate in the 90-Second Newbery back when he lived in Tacoma. He helped them make great video adaptations of Joyce Sidman’s 2011 Honor Book Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted, and Wanda Gag’s 1929 Honor Book Millions of Cats.



Since then, Elliot moved from Tacoma to Asheville. It was his bright idea to bring our film festival there too! He arranged our venue at the Pack Memorial Library, partnered with Spellbound Children’s Bookshop for publicity, landed grants from the Asheville Awesome Foundation and Friends of Buncombe County Libraries (thanks so much!), and got the word out—resulting in a whopping 13 movies from Asheville in our very first year. He made award statuettes, popped popcorn, and rolled out a literal red carpet with paparazzi for the screening event. Thank you so much, Elliot, for making the film festival happen in Asheville. I’m already looking forward to returning next year! (It also gives me a chance to visit with my old friend Nate Murphy and his wife Meriam and their daughter Myrrah, who kindly put me up for the weekend.)



Thanks also to my co-host Alan Gratz! Go read his great books Refugee, Projekt 1065, and his “League of Seven” series (and many, many more). I had met Alan once before at the Decatur Book Festival, and bought League of Seven, which I enjoyed very much (but was too shy to tell him when we met in person). Alan came loaded for bear, with the song and lines of the opening skit memorized, game for anything! Alan, you were a great co-host!



Special thanks to Kayenta who helped us out in the beginning skit, and to the Pack Memorial Library for putting on this event, in particular Jesse and Raj. Above all, thanks to the filmmakers, and the parents and teachers who helped them, especially those who attended on April 22!



Here are some pictures from the day:










Let’s check out some of the Asheville movies we featured that day! I won’t be able to feature all thirteen on them in this post—that would be too unwieldy!—but I’ll link to all of them. And all of the movies have been reviewed on the 90-Second Newbery website. Some excerpts of the reviews are included below.



First off, let’s check out this animated paper cut-out version of Robert C. O’Brien’s 1972 Medal Winner Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Lola Black. With Lola’s permission, I added the voices of my daughters Lucy and Ingrid to the movie, as well as my niece and nephew Domingo and Amalia, so that kids who couldn’t read the subtitles could also enjoy the movie:









The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, in part, “Beautifully drawn and fluidly animated! The movie gets the story across with quiet subtlety, resourcefully using nothing but nature sound effects, animated cut-paper drawings, and pithy intertitles . . . Impressive and wonderfully crafted.”



Next up is Ruth S. Gannett’s 1949 Honor Book My Father’s Dragon as adapted by Gavin, Iva, Evie Gray, and Fern of Mechanical Eye Microcinema:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, “I like how the movie switches between live-action and stop-motion–the alternation keeps the audience on its toes and piques visual interest. . . . Great clay animals and elaborate sets . . . Tight script, impressive craftsmanship, engaging acting, very entertaining!”



Elliot Weiner, Chanda Calentine, and the ACT Youth Theatre Program submitted two great movies for the film festival. First was Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, “I love this idea of doing a ‘horror’ twist on the book! Great idea to start with a flashforward of the penguin Captain Cook etc. in jail, and then flashing back to see how we got to that desperate point–establishes the high stakes early. . . . The funny ‘quork! quork!’ penguin noises throughout worked well too. Impressive production values, good cinematography and editing, a blast!”



Elliot, Chanda, and the ACT Youth Theatre Program also did a similarly great adaptation of Eleanor Estes’ 1945 Honor Book The Hundred Dresses, which you can see here (along with its own glowing review.)



Those weren’t the only great movies we got from Asheville! Here are the others—go ahead and click on the links to watch the movies and read the reviews:




Jerry Spinelli’s 1998 Honor Book Wringer, adapted by Zachary Eden and Friends of North Windy Ridge Intermediate



Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by May, Caitlyn, Eve, Lee, Elly, Olivia, and Toby



Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Charlie Marsh



Cece Bell’s 2015 Honor Book El Deafo by Colette Russ



Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together by Sully, Cade, and Greyson of Isaac Dickson Elementary



Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner The Tale of Despereaux by Ashley, Grace, Mahogany, and Miles of Isaac Dickson Elementary



Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner The Tale of Despereaux by Delphi, Kayla, Mya, Lydia of Isaac Dickson Elementary



Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street by Alex, Harrison, Jett, and Wyatt of Isaac Dickson Elementary



Christopher Paul Curtis’ 2000 Medal Winner Bud, Not Buddy by Ada, Ashni, Coral, Ife, and Maggie of Isaac Dickson Elementary





Thanks so much, Asheville! Here’s the closing montage that we ran at the end of the afternoon. Looking forward to seeing what movies I get from North Caroline next year! Deadline is January 12, 2018. Stay tuned to the 90-Second Newbery website for details!










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Published on April 24, 2017 11:36 • 2 views

April 17, 2017


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I’m late posting this, but better late than never!



On February 11 and 12, we did the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in Tacoma, WA and Portland, OR. Thanks to John Hargis for taping our opening skit in Tacoma (which you can watch above). In it, I along with co-hosts Keir Graff and Doug Mackey learn the true secret to winning Newbery medals. Special thanks to our young volunteer who played the owner of Fluffles!



I didn’t get a video of the opening skit in Portland, but here I am with Keir and my Portland co-host Dale Basye (author of the Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go series) and our audience volunteer Ramona (who is the daughter of my friend-since-childhood Raj!) right before the Portland show, at their historic Hollywood Theatre:










And here are some pictures from the Tacoma show! A gigantic THANK YOU to Sara Sunshine Holloway, for putting the show together at the Tacoma Public Library, year after year. Tacoma does it right: red carpet, prize statuettes for the filmmakers, popcorn and cookies, Hollywood-style posters of the Newbery-winning book covers, swarming paparazzi, a lot of genuine community support and good-feeling!










Let’s look at some of the standout movies we got from Portland and Tacoma this year.



Last year, the astonishingly talented 14-year-old Anya Schooler wowed us with her Claymation adaptation of Ruth Gannet’s My Father’s Dragon. This year Anya’s back with an even more impressive adaptation of Mary & Conrad Buff’s 1952 Honor Book Apple and the Arrow:










As the judges said in this full review on the 90-Second Newbery blog, “Simply amazing. I am floored at Anya Schooler’s meticulous craft and her inspired artistry . . . Anya gets more authentically emotional performances out of clay than I see in many real-life actors! Great voiceover acting too. The use of the ‘William Tell Overtrue’ was inspired, especially the way the movie’s action synched to the dynamics of the music.”



From Tacoma, Mr. Johnson’s fifth grade class at the Grant Center for the Expressive Arts did this excellent adaptation of Vince Vawter’s 2014 Honor Book Paperboy:










As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog, this movie was “assured, beautifully shot, and compelling to watch! It got the whole story of the book across efficiently and with style to spare . . . all the acting was impressive and subtle. The background music tied all the scenes together effectively. The cinematography was some of the best I’ve ever seen in a 90-Second Newbery.” (You can see the reaction from Paperboy author Vince Vawter on his own blog here!)



Rosemary Sissel from Tacoma has been doing great 90-Second Newberys for the past few years. Here’s her entry for this year, essentially a one-woman show of Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted:










The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog praised it thus: “Ella’s monologue elegantly frames the story and makes the narrative far easier to understand and follow. It was resourceful and funny to use cardboard cutouts for the co-stars. I appreciated all the fun touches: the cardboard mother ‘dying’ (and then getting thrown into the trash!) and lines like ‘you gotta be more chill!’ and ‘but the curse… but the kingdom… but his nose!!!'”



The Tacoma screening also featured Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Medal Winner Shiloh, as adapted by Travis of Seabury School:










As the judges said,, “Solid from beginning to end! The cinematography of the movie was excellent . . . The script was tight and smart, it really condensed the story down to the essentials without sacrificing any of the personality of the book.”



I’d love to feature ALL the movies shown at the Tacoma screening in this post. But that would be too many videos! So here are links to each one of the videos we received from Tacoma this year, and featured at the film festival:



Jaek Andersen of StoryLab TPL’s adaptation of Holes



Aidan of the Seabury School’s adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver



Sofia of the Seabury School’s adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan



Bayden of the Seabury School’s adaptation of Misty of Chincoteague



Zakaria of the Seabury School’s Bud, Not Buddy



Luke of the Seabury School’s adaptation of The Black Pearl



Travis of the Seabury School’s adaptation of Shiloh



Karl of the Seabury School’s adaptation of Wringer



Sulli of the Seabury School’s adaptation of My Side of the Mountain



Sam of the Seabury School’s adaptation of The Long Winter



Armaan of the Seabury School’s adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia



I have a lot of people to thank for the Tacoma and Portland screenings. Of course, I must first thank Keir Graff, who has been on the road with me through so many screenings. He’s a great co-host! Go buy his splendid book The Matchstick Castle!



For the Tacoma show, my biggest thanks to Sara Sunshine Holloway and everyone at the Tacoma Public Library for bringing us out to the library yet again. Thanks also to special Tacoma co-host Doug Mackey for his comic stylings during the show. There’s a reason I love doing the show with Doug every year! Thanks again to our young volunteer for playing the role of Fluffles’ owner in the opening bit. Thank you also to Mike Hargis, everyone on the video crew, who made a real show out of this and did all the videotaping and camera work. And thanks to all the other volunteers at the library!



In Portland, thanks to Elisa Barrios, Marie Biondolillo, and everyone at Open Signal for setting up the screening. Thanks to the great folks at the Hollywood Theater for letting us use their space, and thanks to Ramona for being the caretaker of “Fluffles” in the opening skit. (Unfortunately, we didn’t get a video of that.) Also thanks to author Victoria Jamieson for dropping in to check out the videos of her great Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel Roller Girl, and for saying such nice things about the videos! (You can see those videos here, by Mason Public Library and Jillian Parrino).



And finally, of course, thanks to all of the filmmakers, and the parents and teachers who helped them!



You can go here to find out more about the 90-Second Newbery Film festival. Start making your movies now, due in January 2018!



Let’s close out this post with a look at the closing montage for the Tacoma screening:










And for good measure, also the closing montage for the Portland screening:










Thanks again! Looking forward to next year!


The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive! Want us to keep doing this? Make a tax-deductible donation here.


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Published on April 17, 2017 13:50 • 3 views

April 3, 2017






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On Saturday, April 1, my co-host Keir Graff and I brought the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival back home to Chicago, at the Vittum Theatre. Above are (most of) the local young filmmakers who contributed to the show. It was a great crowd, an exhilarating afternoon.



Especially because my daughter Lucy made her stage debut! Check out the video of the opening skit below, in which Keir and I learn what most Newbery-winning books have in common: the mawkish/gruesome inclusion of a dead animal. We discover a device that produces guaranteed-Newbery-winning manuscripts, but at the price that an actual animal must die. Lucy plays the volunteer from the audience whose pet bunny “Fluffles” is the victim of our scheme. Then Keir and I launch into the opening number from “Hamilton” with a 90-Second Newbery twist:










Great job, Lucy! Just for reference, here’s what Lucy looked like almost eight years ago. She’s grown!



So, let’s get to this year’s local movies. This year saw the triumphant return of Fuzzy Pizza Productions to the 90-Second Newbery, adapting Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book Sign of the Beaver:










As the judges said in the full review on the 90-Second Newbery website, “One of the best 90-Second Newberys ever . . . I love the way the father willfully misinterprets all the plot points so that they have to be about beavers . . . Great art and animation all throughout!” You owe it to yourself to check out all the 90-Second Newberys over the years by the multitalented Zenz family. (They had a great children’s books blog going for a while, and the father Aaron Zenz is an amazing picture book author too.)



Next up: Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet by Charlie of Edgewood Middle School in Highland Park, IL. Here, this gritty tale of how a boy must survive alone in the wilderness after a plane crash, with only a hatchet for help, is given a modern twist: it’s Hatchet in virtual reality!










As the judges said, “Hilarious. I love the visuals of Charlie bumping around in his house with the virtual-reality headset on. Each scene expertly builds the comedy . . . Big laughs, loved it!”



That’s not the only version of Hatchet we received this year. Here’s the same story, but adapted with a horror-movie twist, by the Youth Media Program at Chicago Filmmakers Moviemaking Camp:










According to the judges, it was “a stroke of brilliance to adapt it in the style of a horror movie! What’s more horrifying than being trapped alone in the wilderness? And I like how the premise extends to everything: the ominous black-and-white effect used throughout, the terrifying mother (and the foreboding repetition of “future danger”), and the scary music inside the plane . . . and that ending credits sequence was super impressive!”



(Chicago Filmmakers Moviemaking Camp also did an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1990 Newbery Medal Winner Number the Stars, which you can see here.)



Last year Corbin Stanchfield of Indiana turned in an all-time 90-Second Newbery classic with his adaptation of Shiloh with the dog replaced with a bagel. This year he’s back with an adaptation of Gennifer Choldenko’s 2005 Honor Book Al Capone Does My Shirts:










The judges loved this one too: “Hilarious idea to do the book in the form of a cheesy 1980s-style commercial! . . . the bloviating low-rent huckster version of Al Capone in this video is a fantastic comic creation.”



How about last year’s Newbery Medal winner, Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street? We’ve got a great musical version of it, by Spencer of Highland Park, IL:










The judges were also enthusiastic about this one: “Amazing! A new approach to the 90-Second Newbery, fun and well-executed! I like the way that you played all the parts of the song yourself, with voice and manual percussion on loop, and then sped up the whole thing. The lyrics summed up the story elegantly and they fit perfectly into the song . . . So much fun, joyful and goofy and well-crafted!”



Here’s another movie by a 90-Second Newbery veteran from Chicago, Ada Grey. Every year Ada makes elaborate Playmobil mise-en-scenes that tell the stories of the books, with her narrating the story in voiceover. This year she adapted Amy Timblerlake’s 2014 Honor Book One Came Home:










The judges praised this one as “Ambitious and technically innovative . . . The sets were beautiful and elaborate, especially the nighttime ones with the glowing stars and the artfully deployed lightning and shadows . . . Great movie!”



You can see Ada Grey’s other 90-Second Newbery movies here, and check out her progress in the Chicago theater scene (with reviews of various shows, and her own budding acting career!) at Adagrey.com.



Next up is the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, as adapted by by Steve, Meg, Lucie, and John:










The judges gave high marks to this one too: “A standout entry, beautifully well done! The banjo music in the background throughout set a rambling-but-peppy mood. Excellent visual storytelling, the movie really gets across the events of the narrative in a compelling way without a single word . . . It was also a cool moment when the bird flew away with the cookies, and eventually perched at the top of the Sears Tower!”



Frog and Toad Together was also adapted by Newbery veteran Ava Levine (check out her earlier entries here). Her twist? Do do them in the style of Seinfeld! Here are the vignettes “The List” and “The Garden” from the book:

















The judges’ remarks for “The List” and “The Garden” praise the use of “traditional Seinfeld bass-slap music and laugh tracks and sitcom-style credits . . . the script follows the plot of the story accurately while still giving it ridiculous sitcom twists . . . Funny, creative, well done!”



Next up is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1941 Honor Book The Long Winter as adapted by Hazel, Violet, Nora, and Devin. Last year the same group adapted On the Banks of Plum Creek . . . I hope they eventually make movies of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books!)










So quoth the judges: “A superior adaptation of the book! I liked the repeated use of footage of an actual blizzard . . . That was a fun scene when all the girls all broke down crying, and then whooped with joy when Pa came back, and then all screamed in horror again when they saw there was no candy left for them. Really great acting throughout!”



Cynthia Kadohata’s 2005 Medal Winner Kira-Kira was adapted by Kathrine, Valentina, Liza, and Aaron of the Niles Public Library:










As the judges said, “Beautiful and ingenious! . . . The stop motion throughout is elaborate and clever . . . I particularly loved the part that illustrated the story where the fish were driving and the horse was flying! Technically assured and heartfelt, a real treat.”



Only a few more movies left! Next up is Holly Black’s 2014 Honor Book Doll Bones, as adapted by the Evanston Public Library Homeschool Group:










As the judges said, “Committed and hilarious acting, a tight script, an overall fun romp through the book! It was a classic comedic bit when the father gives the son his Blackhawks jersey… only to reveal another Blackhawks jersey underneath . . . I liked the attention detail throughout: the gravestone at the end, the action figure fight at the beginning, and the breaking of the fourth wall right before the flashback. Well done!”



Two more to go! The kids at Francis Xavier Warde School in Chicago did this horror-themed adaptation of Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver:










The judges said, “The scary sound effects and music really make the movie! I love the monochromatic background and the Giver’s weird bald wig . . . It was an inspired touch to have the Giver engaging in a sword fight with pursuers as Jonas escapes the community. Fun climactic chase scene near the end!”



And last but not least of the local entries I’d like to feature today, we have Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan, adapted by Kevin and Richard of Highland Park:










The judges said, “Excellent stop motion claymation! I was impressed all the way through, indeed from the very beginning, with Ivan the gorilla eating the banana–so accurate and well-structured! . . . The intertitles moved the plot along very effectively . . . enjoyable all the way through!”



Phew! That’s a lot of movies.



I’d like to thank everyone who helped out with the Chicago show. Thanks of course to my wonderful co-host Keir Graff (go buy his new children’s book The Matchstick Castle). Keir co-writes the opening skit with me every year. This year he joined me not only for the Chicago screening, but for screenings across the country. It was great fun!



Also thanks to the folks at the Vittum Theater and Northwestern Settlement, especially Laura Kollar and Maya who helped out the day of the screening, and Tom Arvetis and Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins who take care of the administrative end.



Thanks to my friend Kate Babka for running the lights during the show, to Oak Park’s bookstore The Book Table for selling books after the show, and to Scott Dummler and my wife Heather for filming the opening skit. (Speaking of the opening skit, special thanks to Lucy for her great work in that!)



And last but not least, thanks to all the young filmmakers, and their friends and family and teachers and facilitators who helped out. Obviously, there would be no film festival without you. Year after year I get great movies from all around the country, and the entries from Chicago and environs are always up there with the best (here’s looking at you, Michigan and Indiana!)



Itching to make a movie, after seeing all those great ones? The deadline for next year is January 2018. I can’t wait to see what you dream up next time. Complete details about the film festival at www.90secondnewbery.com.



Until then, here’s the closing montage of the Chicago 2017 90-Second Newbery show:










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Published on April 03, 2017 12:39 • 4 views

March 26, 2017


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I love doing the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in Rochester, New York!



From our beginning, Rochester has been one of the most active participants in the film festival, with lots of excellent entries every year. That’s due to the tireless work of some fantastic Rochesterians: Deb Ross (of KidsOutAndAbout.com), Carol White Llewellyn (of Rochester Community Media) and many others. Beginning last year, we have worked to bring annual screenings to Rochester too, at the Dryden Theater at the George Eastman Museum.



Last year’s screening was a blast! I co-hosted it with Newbery-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard). Linda Sue was a fantastic co-host (and boy could she sing!) but our schedules didn’t mesh this year. Never fear! Rochester is chockablock with fantastic children’s authors (maybe that’s why their annual Teen Book Festival does so well), and I was lucky enough to score YA author Charles Benoit (Snow Job, Cold Calls) as my co-host this year.



Charles is a saxophone player in a band and a natural showman, so I knew he’d slay the opening skit. He did! Check out the video, above! And our young volunteer Jacyn did a great job too with her role. Thanks, Jacyn and Charles! Here we are after the show:










For the second year in a row, we also got to hear the dulcet tones of Rochester’s own children’s troubadour Mr. Loops, who beguiled the audience with his guitar as they filed in to the theater, and did a great Newbery-themed song in the middle of the show. Thanks, Mr. Loops!










I have many more people to thank, but before we get to that, let’s check out some of the great movies I got from Rochester this year. (Oh, and let me also acknowledge that I was in Rochester during a record-breaking snowstorm that stranded me in a hotel next to the airport for two-and-a-half days, living on takeout pizza and coffee, kind of like a really low-stakes version of The Shining.)



On to Rochester’s videos! Here is Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Newbery Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street, as adapted by Roberto Clemente School #8 with The Animation Workshop at Animatus Studio and Children’s Film Festival:










As the judges wrote on the 90-Second Newbery blog, this was some “elaborate, accomplished, and assured animation . . . I love the choice to combine the drawn figures and photographic heads . . . Masterful!”



Here’s another take on Last Stop on Market Street, this time by Eian Sinclair (who last year did an amazing Claymation of Firefly Hollow):










So says the 90-Second Newbery blog: “The clay figures were impressive, full of intimate character and detail, and animated with lifelike subtlety (the toe-tapping during the music, the wriggling of the dog, the little smile on the guitar player when people clap for him)!”



Next up is Victoria Jamieson’s 2016 Honor Book Roller Girl by Dr. Martin Luther King School No. 9:










As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog, “Even though it’s a bit longer than 90 seconds, this movie made every second count . . . I like how the movie showed every step of how Astrid and Nicole first become friends, all the way from its beginning with the squirrel-touch and the nightmare-fantasy of foaming at the mouth from rabies! I also appreciated how this movie mixes up its shots: closeups, mid-shots, and insert shots–that variety makes it much more of a pleasure to watch . . . Great movie!”



We got a bunch of great movies from a moviemaking summer camp run by Rochester Community Media TV and Writers and Books. This first one is of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One And Only Ivan—but instead of a silverback gorilla, with a dinosaur:










As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog, “Great movie! I liked the switcheroo of having Ivan not be a gorilla, but rather a dinosaur. The costumes were all fun and resourceful–I liked the dinosaur costume of Ivan, but I liked the elephant costumes even better (complete with long trunks)! I like the goofy-corny wordplay (“Leonardo di-no-Vinci”!) . . . Well done!”



Next up by Rochester Community TV and Writers and Books summer camp is Richard & Florence Atwater 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins . . . here, done SPY STYLE:










The 90-Second Newbery blog judges say, “A brilliant concept—that the penguins of Mr. Popper’s Penguins are not regular penguins, but rather expert spies with a mission of their own! The goofy premise was set up swiftly and expertly in the first few seconds—you clearly set up the correct expectations for the movie right away. The acting was engaging and fun, especially Mr. Popper’s (I like the look of mild panic on his face when he insists to his wife, “I did not order this!”).”



The camp also adapted Lois Lowry’s 1990 Medal Winner Number the Stars:










The judges at the 90-Second Newbery blog wrote, “Spooky, goofy idea to reinvent Number the Stars in a Ghostbusters style. Impressive Ghostbusters uniforms—I like how the Ghostbusters are reframed as the villains in this movie (indeed, Nazis!), and the ghosts are the protagonists!”



Next up is an adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1979 Honor Book Great Gilly Hopkins:










The judges at the 90-Second Newbery blog said, “I like the twist in this movie: instead of being sent to a foster home, Gilly Hopkins is sent to live in a black-leather-jacket-wearing gang . . . Lots of fun weird energy in this one, the use of green screen and establishing shots was resourceful and not overdone.”



Thank you for all those great entries, Rochester!



And thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped make this Rochester trip happen: once again to super-organizers Deb Ross and Carol White Llewellyn, my co-host Charles Benoit and guest troubadour Mr. Loops and volunteer Jacyn. I want to thank our official partners at the George Eastman Museum, KidsOutAndAbout.Com, Writers and Books, and Rochester Community TV. And thanks also to our Platinum sponsor, Delta Airlines; our Gold sponsor, the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library; and our Silver sponsors, Animatus Studio / Animation Workshop, and Cheshire Audio/Visual.



Thanks also to Beth Puckett, who hosted me for an author visit at Johanna Perrin Middle School, and Kim Rouleau, who hosted me for an author visit at Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women. Thanks to Stephanie Squicciarini for letting me and Charles present at the Teen Book Festival fundraiser, thanks to Xandi DiMatteo and Kathy Wolf for inviting me to speak at the Rochester Central Library, and thanks to Xandi for taking me out to eat, and thanks to Deb Ross and her family for not only feeding me, but putting me up at her house for a few days, and paying for the hotel! I will not forget your generosity!



But thanks especially to all the young movie-makers who made this film festival possible, and also their parents, teachers, and facilitators who helped them out!



Also thanks to Arthur Bond and Amy Holland! I hung out with them (and their friends Jonathan and Matt) and I sat in on Arthur Bond’s radio show “Show of Prague,” in which he plays mostly prog rock and acts like he’s from Prague. I pretend to be his estranged cousin, Volgak Prazak. Afterward I sat in on their friend Lauren’s SE/EA Beats show. It made me nostalgic for when I was a DJ…



OK, this post has gone on long enough! Here’s the closing montage of the 2017 Rochester 90-Second Newbery…










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Published on March 26, 2017 21:44 • 3 views

March 22, 2017


Hoo boy, do I have egg on my face! I totally forgot to post this back in January!



Some background. My friend Matt Bird and I started a podcast a few months ago called The Secrets of Story. In it, we try to figure out between us what makes a good story tick. What are the pro moves that great novelists and screenwriters do? What are the cringe-making mistakes that writers should avoid? Our podcast aims to get to the bottom of it!



But wait! What authority do Matt and I have to host such a podcast?



Well, Matt is the author of the excellent screenwriting/novel-writing advice book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (which you should go out and buy). It’s based on his storytelling advice blog Secrets of Story, of which I’m a longtime fan and sometime contributor. It’s a great blog! I’ve been reading it for years!



Okay, those are Matt’s credentials. But what right do I have to co-host this podcast? Well . . . Matt invited me. That’s about it. That’s enough, right? And I’m interested in understanding what makes for good stories. The Order of Odd-Fish came out years ago, but for one reason or another (including marvelous Lucy and Ingrid and starting the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival), although I’ve written plenty since then, I haven’t published anything. So starting this podcast is kind of like a therapy for me. Maybe, through talking over storytelling issues with Matt, I can figure out how to move forward?!



Speaking of moving forward… Here is Episode 3 of that very podcast. The problem is, we posted it on January 13, but I’m not blogging about it until now… a full 2+ months later! What gives?



The answer is pretty mundane. I just forgot. The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening season was cranking up just around then, and I was overwhelmed, and I missed blogging about it.



Which is a shame, because this is a great episode! Some background: in an earlier episode, Matt initiated what he hoped would be a recurring feature, in which he or I “give away” story ideas. Matt’s idea was about Laika, the first dog in space, who was shot up there by the Russians in 1957, and who presumably died up there. Matt’s story said, what if, instead of Laika dying in space in the Sputnik-2 as we all thought, she was scooped up by aliens? And what if those aliens are constantly watching all the planets with intelligent life, and the first time any planet sends a living organism into space, those aliens whisk away the organism (in this case, Laika) in order to test them, to see if that planet is worthy to be included in the Galactic Empire—and if they fail the test, the planet is destroyed? And so then Laika is put in the odd position of fighting for the life of the planet that only hours ago callously flung her up into space to die?



I liked this idea. So I did something to surprise Matt. In the next episode, I was supposed to show up with my own idea to “give away.” But instead, I wrote a 75-page script based on Matt’s idea! True, I did write the script in only 3 days, so it ain’t perfect, but I thought it was a fun exercise. You can download the script here if you’re interested. It puts a kind of Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Rick and Morty spin on Matt’s idea.



Or you can listen to the above podcast! I got together with my niece and nephew Freya and Theo, and together we performed the script, which is called “Laika and the Blue Mouse.” In the above podcast, Matt and I listen to the recording of Freya’s, Theo’s, and my performance, and every once in a while Matt breaks in to give some critique of the script.



It’s fun! But it’s over two hours! So listener beware. And full disclosure, it’s not my best writing. But I thought it would be a fun experiment to crank something out quickly and then put it through the wringer of Matt’s critique. I think we all surprised ourselves and learned something. Anyway, go listen to it (even though I’m posting it months late!).



And if you want to listen in on the lively debate about the script, with lots of great advice from the commenters, check out the comments section in this post on Matt’s blog.

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Published on March 22, 2017 22:31 • 2 views

March 14, 2017






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This past Sunday Keir Graff (author of The Matchstick Castle) and I co-hosted back-to-back screenings of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. We had great crowds at both venues! This year we got much more participation than usual from the New York area. Above is a collage of screenshots of some of the movies we received from New York this year.



A video of the opening musical skit exists, but unfortunately the sound quality wasn’t as crisp as it was for the Minneapolis screening. If you want to see a good version of the opening skit, check out the Minneapolis version here, starring me, Keir, and this year’s Newbery Medal winner Kelly Barnhill.



The opening skit was all about how odd it is that so many animals die in Newbery-winning books. As the skit goes on, Keir and I come upon a “Newbery-matic 7000” contraption that produces Newbery-winning manuscripts, but at a price: a live animal must be sacrificed! And so we end up murdering the pet of a child in the audience. In Minneapolis, that child was played by a girl named Hadley; in New York, the part was played by one of our filmmakers, Violet.

















Violet did a fantastic job, and on super-short notice! This isn’t Violet’s first year involved with the 90-Second Newbery, either. Last year, Violet and her partner-in-crime Ocean adapted Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot with stop-motion Legos; this year, they made an adaptation of Tomie dePaola’s 2000 Honor Book 26 Fairmount Avenue, entirely with stop-motion Playmobil figures:










The 90-Second Newbery website said of this video, “an accomplished and impressive feat of stop-motion animation . . . So much detail and love went into this! It’s fantastic!”



It was great fun to show off movies from other 90-Second Newbery veterans too, like Jillian and Joseph Parrino. Check out Jillian’s submission this year, an adaptation of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl in the style of Hamilton:










As the judges said at the 90-Second Newbery website, “Flat-brilliant . . . the songs were cleverly shortened and edited to make a smooth flow. It’s a smart concept that fits with unexpected serendipity with the source material.”



Jillian’s brother Joseph made a first-rate video too, of Marion Dane Bauer’s 1987 Honor Book On My Honor . . . with a cast entirely of fruit! You can check it out here, along with the judges’ praise! Both movies killed at the screening!



Here are Keir and I with Jillian and Joseph after the show. I look forward to getting their movies every year!










I can’t include every movie that we featured on Saturday and Sunday in this post, or the post would go on forever. But I did want to draw attention to this strange and original adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan by Milo and Levi of the Carroll Gardens branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s done entirely with sampled clips from all over the Internet:










A new way to do 90-Second Newberys! The judges said this one is “original, goofy, and entertaining… original and extremely enjoyable!”



There are a lot more great entries where those came from! Click on these below to see other local entries featured at the screenings at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library:



The War That Saved My Life by Brooklyn Friends School

Frog and Toad Together by Jada and Tatayana of the Brooklyn Public Library

Last Stop on Market Street by the Clarendon branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

Last Stop on Market Street by the Cortelyou branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

Charlotte’s Web by the Bedford Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

When You Reach Me by Kenzie and Hannah of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

El Deafo by Emi and Mamie of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Courage of Sarah Noble by Celia and Sarah, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by the Gravesend branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Mohana of New York, NY (not available online yet)



After the show, we invited just the filmmakers onstage. Here are Keir and I with some of the young filmmakers who came to the New York Public Library screening:










And here we are with some of the moviemakers who made it to the Brooklyn screening:










It takes a lot of people working together to put on these shows. At the New York Public Library, thanks to to Tali Stolzenberg-Myers, Aisha Ahmad-Post, Caitlyn Colman-McGaw, Emily Nichols, and Emily Krell… as well as the folks at the Andreas Dracopolous Endowment for Young Audiences. Thanks also to Paquita Campoverde, Brandon Graham, and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library who helped out. Thanks to the Crosswicks Foundation and Penguin Young Readers. Thanks to my co-host Keir Graff, and of course thanks to all the young filmmakers and the teachers, family, and facilitators who help them make these great movies!



To wrap up, here’s the closing montage we played at the New York Public Library:










And the closing montage at the Brooklyn Public Library:










See you next year, New York!


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Published on March 14, 2017 15:55 • 3 views

March 2, 2017


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The 6th annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is in full swing, rolling across this great and glorious land of ours!



So far we’ve done shows in San Antonio, Tacoma, Portland, Oakland, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. (Phew!) I haven’t blogged about them yet because I haven’t had time, but I wanted to blog about Minneapolis as soon as possible because of our special co-host.



(Hey! If you can, come to our upcoming screenings in New York City, Brooklyn, Rochester NY, Chicago, Asheville, and/or Boston! I promise a great show and it’s free! In this economy, can you beat that? Full schedule here.)



Usually I have only one co-host. But this year I’m doing most of my screenings with TWO co-hosts. The first is always Keir Graff, author of the brand-new, rollicking, adventurous, funny children’s novel The Matchstick Castle. The second co-host changes from town to town, usually a local children’s author.



Who was my local co-host in Minneapolis? None other than the one and only Kelly Barnhill, who JUST HAPPENED TO WIN THE 2017 NEWBERY MEDAL for her magical, inventive, poetic The Girl Who Drank the Moon! I’m so happy for Kelly—I’m a fan of her previous books The Witch’s Boy and The Mostly True Story of Jack, and in fact Kelly has co-hosted the Minneapolis 90-Second Newbery twice before (here we are in 2016 and 2015).



Yes, I knew her when!



Kelly has always been a fantastic co-host, with great crowd rapport, and always game for whatever singing-and-dancing goofery the show might call for.



The crowd was ready for it! We completely filled up the Pohlad Auditorium in the Central Library of Minneapolis, with an audience of well over two hundred. By tradition, we always start the show with a singing-and-dancing skit. In this year’s opening skit, Kelly teaches Keir and me the secret to writing Newbery Medal-winning books. A gruesome device is revealed, a volunteer from the audience is roped in, Kate DiCamillo is affectionately denounced, there is some (tasteful!) murder, and then Kelly, Keir and I launch into the opening number from “Hamilton” with a 90-Second Newbery twist. I know what you’re asking: is there a video of these three middle-aged white people incompetently rapping? Of course! Scroll back up, check out the video!



Watched the video? Okay, so the girl from the audience who helped us out is named Hadley. She has attended 90-Second Newbery screenings before, but this was the first time she’s ever been part of the show! Here we are hanging out afterwards:













Thanks, Hadley! You dad a fantastic job, especially on such short notice!



Speaking of folks I just met at the show . . . I had a special surprise: I met a girl named Leonie who is a fan of my novel The Order of Odd-Fish! She was wearing an “Aznath, the Silver Kitten of Deceit” costume (confused? just read the book) and she also gave me this fantastic fan art, below!



For those of you who have read Odd-Fish, Leonie here illustrates the scene of when the cockroach butlers force Jo to wear “The Hat of Honor” and parade her over to the gossip columnist Chatterbox’s apartment:










Beautiful, amazing! I like that it’s an over-the-shoulder POV shot from Chatterbox’s window, cool choice! The Hat of Honor is hilariously elaborate, the joyous cockroaches are both anatomically accurate and yet dressed exactly as foppishly as I imagined, and I love all the spectators peeking in on the situation — including an incognitio Belgian Prankster at the bottom! (And is that the Schwenk flying in the sky in the background?) Masterful, Leonie! Thank you so much. (Intrigued by this glimpse into the world of The Order of Odd-Fish? Learn more about the book here.)



OK, back to the 90-Second Newbery! We received ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE videos from Minnesota this year. An embarrassment of riches! There were so many great ones! We ended up showing twelve movies from Minnesota, plus a few other great movies from around the country. If I featured all twelve in this post, it would be way too long, so I’ll just highlight three of them and link to the rest. They’re all winners!



First up, here’s Cece Bell’s 2015 Newbery Honor book El Deafo, as adapted by Jackie Hjelden’s class at Highlands Elementary in Edina, MN:










I especially liked the way Cece gapes with puppy-love eyes at Mike Miller! You can see the judges’ complete comments on the video here.



Next, here’s a Claymation version of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Medal Winner A Wrinkle in Time by Aubrey and Gia of Ms. Nite’s class at Anwatin’s Middle School:










I love the way the brain melts at the end under the relentless might of “the power of love”! Read the judges’ praise and commentary of the movie here.



Here’s another movie that was a huge hit at the film festival, a Lego stop-motion adaptation of Sharon Creech’s 2001 Honor Book The Wanderer, by Bai Li Johnson of Inver Grove Heights Middle Middle School:










Painstakingly animated, frequently ingenious, sometimes funny, and genuinely touching! Check out the judges’ complete comments here.



Like I said, we featured twelve Minnesota videos, way too many to put in one blog post! But if you’re interested, do check these out too, they all show a lot of hard work, resourcefulness, and wit on the part of the filmmakers:


Another adaptation of El Deafo by Highlands Elementary of Edina, MN, this time by Adna, Emily, Louisa, Reid, and Tyler.



From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Max, Owen, and Simon of Creek Valley Elementary of Edina, MN.



Because of Winn-Dixie by Franklin, Harry, Noah, and Elijah of Sanford Middle School of Minneapolis.



A Wrinkle in Time by Cherry, Laura, Avery, Isaac, and Mira of Glacier Hills Elementary School of Eagen, MN.



Holes by Inga, Rose, Annabelle of Countryside Elementary in Edina, MN.



Kira-Kira by Olivia of Edina, MN.



Bridge to Terabithia by Kathleen, Taylor, Reid, and Milo of Creek Valley Elementary of Edina, MN.



Al Capone Does My Shirts by Dylan, Sam, and Eli of Somerset Elementary School of Mendota Heights, MN.



The Westing Game by Emily, Insley, Ellie M., and Ellie S. of St. Paul Academy and Summit School of St. Paul, MN.



Congratulations on being screened . . . and thank you to all these fantastic young moviemakers, and the teachers, family, and others who helped and supported them.



A very special thank you to Jen Verbrugge and Jen Nelson of the Minnesota Department of Education, for sponsoring this program. And thanks to Keir Graff and Kelly Barnhill for being such talented and enthusiastic co-hosts yet again. And thanks to Katherine and Marcus at Addendum Books for making our books available at the screening . . . and for hosting Keir, Kelly, and me at their bookstore the night before the screening!



Here’s a montage of all the movies we showed in Minneapolis. If I didn’t show your movie, it’s not because I didn’t like it, it’s just because we didn’t have time to show all the great stuff we received this year! I’m looking forward to seeing what you make for next year. (Hopefully, there will be a few adaptations of The Girl Who Drank the Moon in the mix… In Claymation? As musicals? In the style of Monty Python? Or in the format of a Seinfeld episode? Who knows? Go crazy!)










Again, want to keep the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival going next year? We run this dog-and-pony show on a shoestring. Believe me, every dollar counts! Make your tax-deductible donation here.

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Published on March 02, 2017 20:11 • 5 views

January 19, 2017


The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is coming to San Antonio this Saturday! It’ll be at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre from 3-5 pm, co-hosted by me and Texas author Nikki Loftin, sponsored by Bexar County’s Digital Library Bibliotech and H-E-B Texas Grocery. Reservations are free, and they’re going fast! Make your reservation here!



Every year with the 90-Second Newbery, one thing always remains the same: I get a lot of adaptations of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal winning book The Giver. But that’s just fine, if the adaptations are creative and do interesting things with the text! Yesterday we featured a Claymation version of The Giver from Kingwood, TX; at the top of this post, check out another submission from Kingwood, by Noah, Alyssa, Adam, and Keona of Creekwood Middle School.



As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog, “I love how joyful and fun this adaptation of The Giver feels! The barrage of goofy references to other movies like The Hunger Games, The Terminator, Star Wars, Jaws, etc. was a fun touch. It was clever how you had people just repeating the world ‘rules’ personify the oppressive mass of rules Jonas must live under. The shift from black-and-white to color during the game of catch was well done (along with the final joke about not being able to catch), and when Jonas is enjoying the newly revealed world of color, that look of bliss on his face while colored paper is fluttering around him was aces. I liked the explosion of light special effect you used to denote every time we are entering the world of the Giver’s memory. And nice ‘sled’! I guess when you don’t have snow, you make do with what you have!”



But that’s not the only version of The Giver we’ve received! Here’s one by Spencer, Kim, Rebecca, and Daniel of Green Table Productions in Houston, TX:










As the judges said in the 90-Second Newbery blog, “I liked the combination of live-action and pen drawings you used to tell the story. The narration had a confident tone and told the story very concisely and accurately. The ‘war memory’ scene was bonkers, and the ‘release’ scene was abrupt and hilarious. Good use of the dramatic music and alarm towards the end. And I liked how the baby Gabe is just … a rainbow-colored stuffed triangle? All that said, I think my favorite part might be the sped-up goofball dancing over the credits. Well done!”



This next adaptation is by Catherine, Skye, Austin, and Brigham of Houston, TX:










The judges say, “The beginning is intense and dramatic, hooks the viewer’s interest right away! I like the Katy Perry music throughout, that was a good choice. The voiceover narration worked well. I loved how, when Jonas learns about colors, all the colors are being thrown at him and he flinches in slow-motion. And it’s a nice moment when Jonas’ parents laugh at him when he asks if they love him. As for the ‘release’ scene… pretty gruesome that he kills the baby, puts it in a bag, throws it in the trash can… and then, to add insult to injury, kicks over the trash can! Cold, cold. Also, I liked the Giver’s paper beard! And is that chair being used as a bike at the end? Resourceful! (But don’t you have a bike?)”



Finally, here’s a different take on The Giver by Camille McWhorter of Creekwood Middle School of Kingwood, TX:










The judges said, “This adaptation of The Giver does something radical I’d never seen before in a 90-Second Newbery: it tells the story of what happened before the story in the book! It’s all about Rosemary, the Giver’s daughter and Jonas’ predecessor. Very poetic and well done. It is similar to Jonas’ story in the book, but while in the book Jonas experiences being the Receiver of Memory as a kind of liberation into the world of truth, here Rosemary can’t deal with the truths she learns, and the conclusion is more tragic. I like the contrast that this demonstrates between the pre-Giver Rosemary and the post-Giver Rosemary. The creepy flashlight under the face in the dark room at the end, with the reveal of who she really is, was the perfect conclusion. Great original idea, well executed!”



All of these and more will be shown at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening in San Antonio this Saturday! (I promise they won’t all be The Giver. We have lots of adaptations of other books too!) Again, tickets are free, so get them here!

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Published on January 19, 2017 09:29 • 6 views