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90-Second Newbery: The Latest Submissions of Some Brilliant Cinema

It’s that time again. Time for kids everywhere to make their own short versions of classic Newbery winning books to the screen. Today, James Kennedy stops by to show us a slew of newest brilliant submissions and to beg you to find some kids who can submit their own.

Hear the man out, people!


 

90SecondNewbery

Hi, this is James Kennedy of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! We’re an annual video contest in which kid filmmakers create short movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds. The best movies are shown at screenings nationwide, attended by hundreds! (And we debuted the film festival on this very blog, seven years ago.)

That first year, we screened the movies in only New York City and Chicago. Now we screen in TWELVE cities, including San Francisco, Boston, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Minneapolis, and many others! I’m lucky enough to co-host these screenings with superstars of the children’s literature world—this year with authors M.T. Anderson, Bruce Coville, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jacqueline West, Nikki Loftin, Keir Graff, Marcus Ewert, and Torrey Maldonado. We may be coming to your city! Check out our complete schedule of screenings in 2019 here.

Here I am being choked to death by M.T. Anderson at last year’s Boston screening as kid filmmakers look on in shock and dismay:

TobinStranglesJames

Today I want to share with you the best entries of 2018’s 90-Second Newbery. The movies these kids make are impressive, clever, hilarious, and inspiring. Just this week, Book Riot said that “some of the festival’s contestants are so creative that watching their videos makes you feel genuinely proud about our future.” When’s the last time you felt like that lately?

Hey! Your school or library or family should make a movie this year! Yes, YOU! It’s mostly for kid filmmakers from elementary school to high school, and adult help is totally allowed. The deadline is January 11, 2019. You can find all the details you need at the 90-Second Newbery website. And I’ll give some additional pointers at the end of this article.

Now let’s watch 2018’s best movies, and see what makes for a good 90-Second Newbery!

The best 90-Second Newberys aren’t just basic retellings of the story. The most loved movies are always the ones that put a crazy twist on the material—whether it’s switching up the genre (like remaking Charlotte’s Web in the style of a horror movie) or adapting the movie in a cool medium (like Mary and Conrad Buff’s 1952 Newbery Honor Book The Apple and the Arrow recreated in elaborate Claymation). In 2018, I saw a lot of fascinating genre-crossing and weird-medium movies. One of the best was Ava Levine’s adaptation of Charlotte’s Web—in the style of a Michael Bay action movie:

Reimagining Charlotte’s Web as a thrillingly cheesy exercise in Bayhem was a stroke of genius that jolted the gentle talking-animal story with new life. I showed this one all over the country and folks loved it at every screening.

The Leland Street Players did this ambitious adaptation of Ruth S. Gannett’s 1949 Newbery Honor Book My Father’s Dragon:

This one pushes the time limit by being five minutes long, but I wanted to spotlight it here to demonstrate how using compelling outdoors locations (no boring classroom interiors or school hallways here), elaborate costumes and facepaint, and fun soundtrack music can really pull a movie together and make it entertaining. Do the extra work and make something special. Props, costumes, locations, soundtrack, and editing all matter!

I love movies that tell the story through music. Rap is particularly well-suited for a 90-Second Newbery because it’s perfect for condensing a lot of information into a small amount of time. Here, students of Lincoln Hall Middle School adapt Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal Winner The Crossover:

Notice how every line he raps moves the story forward, makes us feel a specific emotion, or fills in information we need to know. And it’s all done stylishly, with crisp delivery and confident visuals.

Here’s another fun idea: make a 90-Second Newbery that tells the story of the Newbery-winning book in the style of a well-known movie or TV show. We’ve seen this technique in submissions from the past (Sid Fleischmann’s 1987 Medal winner The Whipping Boy remade in the style of Star Wars, or Beverly Cleary’s 1978 Honor Book Ramona and Her Father done as a James Bond movie).

This concept works best if both stories have certain similarities. For instance, Natalie Babbitt’s 1971 Newbery Honor Book Knee-Knock Rise is about seemingly supernatural happenings in a small rural town, investigated by a newcomer to that town . . . which is broadly the plot of the TV show Twin Peaks! So here, Domingo and Amalia of Chicago adapt Knee-Knock Rise in a David Lynch style:

The lesson: Pick a specific style, commit to it one hundred percent in every scene, and you can’t go wrong!

Here’s another example of making your movie in the style of a popular TV show—here, Mr. Johnson’s 5th Grade at Grant Center for the Expressive Arts in Tacoma, WA adapted Marion Dane Bauer’s 1987 Newbery Honor Book On My Honor in the style of Stranger Things:

The movie works because it really commits to the bit: using the show’s distinctive title style to split the movie into chapters, making “Eleven” be dressed just as she is in the show (and with a similar ominous glare) . . . and notice how the book’s hero has the “Dustin” hair from the show! The ending of this movie also cleverly reverses the ending of the book. That’s exactly the kind of thing I love to see . . . a movie adaptation that doesn’t just retell the story of the book, but transforms it in a witty way. (And it got attention from the author herself!)

Mr. Johnson’s class also adapted Patricia Lauber’s 1987 Newbery Honor Book Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens:

This is an effective adaptation because it chooses very carefully what to omit from the book . . . and also what to add in order to make a fun, watchable movie. By giving the volcano a personality, and by making the eruption “motivated” by a squirrel messing with its Rubik’s cube, the movie comes alive in wonderful and unexpected ways. It includes only the most necessary informational points of the book, never getting bogged down. It’s quick, it’s funny, it puts a unique spin on the material—and yet it still manages to be accurate to the broad outlines of the book! (Resourceful use of green-screen, too.)

Sometimes it’s instructive to see two different adaptations of the same book. Here’s another take on Patricia Lauber’s Volcano book, this time by Ezra R. of Master Shot Film Club at the American Library in Paris, France. Here, instead of adapting the story into a different genre, Ezra adapts the book into a distinctive medium—stop-motion Legos:

Again, I love how this movie not only abbreviates the book, but also adds stuff: the volcano’s eruption is here blamed not on geology, but on careless fire demons. And the wildlife “party” at the end is the perfect way to wrap this one up. Don’t be afraid to goof around with the book . . . as long as it’s still broadly congruent with the book’s general thrust, you should be fine.

Here’s another example of doing your movie in a distinctive way: the students of Robert L. Vale Middle School in San Antonio adapted Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book with shadow puppets, and the plot is sung along to the “Scooby-Doo” theme song:

Using a song in your 90-Second Newbery immediately makes it much more compelling and fun to watch. And the visual storytelling with the shadow puppets is adroit and effective, with every shot conveying story information.

That’s not even scratching the surface of all the worthy and wonderful movies we received this year. I can’t wait to see what everyone cooks up for 2019!

What will your twist be?

The Giver as a badly produced 1990s sitcom, complete with laugh track? Mr. Popper’s Penguins reimagined as a zombie apocalypse? Frog and Toad Together in the style of Rick and Morty? The Black Cauldron in the style of an episode of the original Star Trek? Bridge to Terabithia from the point of view of the Terabithian monsters who are sick of all the girls who keep dying in their magical land? Or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler from the point of view of Mrs. Frankweiler’s long-suffering lawyer Saxonberg? How about doing the movie in Minecraft? Or maybe tell the story entirely in emojis? Or in the style of a side-scrolling video game?

I WANT TO SEE IT ALL, PEOPLE!

Remember, the deadline is January 11, 2019. You can find complete details (rules, instructions for submitting, etc.) at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival website. We have a page that highlights some of the best 90-Second Newberys we’ve received, so you can get a better idea of what kind of videos do well in the film festival.

Every movie submitted receives a personal review from me, and gets featured on the 90-Second Newbery website! If there’s a screening in your city, there’s a good chance that your movie will be featured at that screening. And if your movie is good enough, there’s an excellent chance your movie will be featured at all the screenings nationwide!

Daunted by the idea of making a movie for the first time? Don’t be! We have a wealth of moviemaking resources available on the 90-Second Newbery website, including screenwriting tips, links to royalty-free music, green screen advice, a crash course in cinematography, and even a step-by-step “How To Make A 90-Second Newbery” guide! Don’t be afraid if this is the first movie you’ve ever made. The point is to have fun, not to be perfect. Some of our best movies have been made by first-timers. You can find all those helpful resources here.

Still on the fence about whether you want to attend a screening? Let me sweeten the deal: you’ll get to see me and my celebrity author co-hosts sing and dance! Our screenings always begin with a weird skit and a musical number. For instance, in 2018’s opener, the co-host and I (in this video, me and author Keir Graff) confronted weird video games based on Newbery winners, which turned into a celebration of the strangest 90-Second Newbery movies we’ve received over the years, sung to the the tune of “Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan:

 

I really hope to see you at the screenings. And I hope to see you and your students’ and kids’ great movies!

Here’s our screening schedule for 2019. Save the dates!

Saturday, February 9, 2019
The SAN ANTONIO, TX screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Mays Family Center at the Witte Museum (3801 Broadway St., San Antonio, TX). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl, Nightingale’s Nest). Made possible by partners at Bexar County Digital Library Bibliotech and H-E-B Texas Grocery. 2:00 pm, reception following.

Friday, February 15, 2019
The OGDEN, UT screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Treehouse Museum (347 22nd Street Ogden, UT 84401). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Keir Graff  (The Phantom Tower). Made possible by partners at the Treehouse Museum, Utah Humanities and Weber County Book Links. 6:30 pm.

Saturday, February 16, 2019
The SALT LAKE CITY screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Salt Lake City Public Library (210 East 400 South). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Keir Graff (The Phantom Tower). Made possible by partners at Utah Humanities, the Utah Film Center, and the Salt Lake City Public Library. 2:00 pm.

Saturday, February 23, 2019
The MINNEAPOLIS screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall) in Pohlad Hall. Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Jacqueline West (The Collectors). On-site book sales by Red Balloon Bookshop. 3:00 pm.

Sunday, March 10, 2019
The CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Harold Washington Library Center (400 S. State Street) in the Pritzker Auditorium. Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Keir Graff (The Phantom Tower). With special guest, author Mary Winn Heider (The Mortification of Fovea Munson)! 1:45 pm.

Sunday, March 17, 2019
The ROCHESTER, NY screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Eisenhart Auditorium of the Rochester Museum & Science Center (657 East Ave). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and the legendary Bruce Coville (My Teacher Is An Alien, Space Station Ice 3, and more). 2 pm.

Friday, March 22, 2019
The SALEM, OR screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Loucks Auditorium at the Salem Public Library (585 Liberty St SE). Hosted by author James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and another co-host TBA. 6 pm.

Saturday, March 23, 2019
The TACOMA, WA screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Blue Mouse Theatre  (2611 N Proctor St, Tacoma, WA). Hosted by author James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Tacoma’s own Doug Mackey. 11:00 am.

Saturday, March 30, 2019
The BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Central Library (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY) in the Dweck Auditorium. Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Torrey Maldonado (Secret Saturdays, Tight). 1 pm.

Sunday, March 31, 2019
The NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (5th Ave at 42nd St., New York, NY) in the Celeste Auditorium (NB: this is different space from last year; this time it’s the downstairs theatre). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Newbery Honor winner Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground). 2:30 pm.

Saturday, April 6, 2019
The OAKLAND, CA screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave, Oakland, CA). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Marcus Ewert (Mummy Cat, 10,000 Dresses). 3:30 pm.

Sunday, April 7, 2019
The SAN FRANCISCO screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the San Francisco Public Library main branch (100 Larkin Street) in the Koret Auditorium. Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and Marcus Ewert (Mummy Cat, 10,000 Dresses). 2:00 pm.

Saturday, April 27, 2019
The BOSTON screening of the eighth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! At the Boston Public Library in Copley Square (700 Boylston St, Boston, MA). Hosted by authors James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson (Feed, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge). 2:30 pm.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

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