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Guest Post: The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival Wants YOU!

Hi, this is James Kennedy of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. We’re the annual video contest in which kid filmmakers create short movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds (and adult help is totally OK). Big thanks to Betsy for letting me hijack her blog to showcase this year’s entries, and to encourage everyone to make movies for next year’s film festival! (Indeed,it’s right here on Fuse #8 that we first debuted the 90-Second Newbery, eight years ago.)

Every year, the 90-Second Newbery features the best movies we’ve received in big screenings in cities across the country. These screenings are co-hosted by me and other authors like M.T. Anderson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Bruce Coville, Jacqueline West, and more. Last year we put on 14 screenings in 14 cities—in New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston, San Antonio, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Ogden UT, Oakland CA, Tacoma WA, Rochester NY, Salem OR, Boulder CO, with nearly 3000 registered attendees, and over 400 movie submissions.

We always kick off the show with an opening skit. Check out this year’s opener, in which M.T. Anderson and I are confronted by the HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL of Newbery winners Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and Meindert de Jong, who are obsessed with shutting down the film festival and executing me . . . a confrontation which builds into a rousing rewritten version of “One Day More” from Les Miserables:

So let’s look at some of the 2019 season’s best movies! I hope they’ll inspire you to make a movie of your own, or to help kids at your school or library to make their own! The deadline is January 10, 2020, but you can turn your movies in any time before then, too. You’ll find complete details at the 90-Second Newbery website, including step-by-step instructions on how to make your own movie, including help in screenwriting, cinematography, green screen, editing, and more.

For instance, Fletch and Otto from Tacoma, Washington delighted audiences across the country with their retelling of the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together:

Amazing and cute! And the next movie is also based on a book featuring animals—Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner The Tale of Despereaux. As you remember, the story takes place in a kingdom where soup is forbidden. Why? A rat named Roscuro had fallen into the Queen’s soup, causing her to die of shock. Years later a mouse, Despereaux, falls in love with the Queen’s daughter, Princess Pea. Despereaux breaks mouse law by speaking to Princess Pea. For this, the mice throw Despereaux into the dungeon. Meanwhile, Roscuro tricks servant girl Miggory Sow into kidnapping the Princess and taking her down to the dungeon. Can Despereaux save Princess Pea? Will soup ever be legal again?

And most urgently . . . can these filmmakers do the whole story in the style of the Les Miserables?

As it turns out, some of the most popular 90-Second Newberys are musicals. In this next movie, Corbin Stanchfield of Lafayette, Indiana adapts Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book The Sign of the Beaver in the musical styles of the Beatles, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Bruno Mars, and more . . . playing all the characters and performing all the music himself!

(Just in case you don’t remember the story: it’s the 18th century, and 13-year-old Matt and his father have built a log cabin in the wilderness. Matt’s dad leaves him alone to guard the cabin while he heads back to Maine to get the rest of the family. Months go by and Matt’s father still hasn’t returned, so Matt must learn how to survive alone. Without a gun to hunt with, Matt must live on the tasteless fish he catches from the river. He deals with stinging bees and befriends Attean, a Native American of the nearby Beaver tribe, and even saves Attean’s dog from a trap. With the upcoming winter, the Beaver tribe offers to take care of Matt, but Matt decides to wait for his father—who does finally come back.)

Last year we received a lot of amazing movies from the Compass Homeschool Initiative in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the most popular was of Steve Sheinkin’s 2013 Honor Book Bomb: The Race to Build—And Steal—The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. The book not only tells about the scientists who designed the bomb for the United States, but also the Russian spies who were trying to send those designs back to the Soviet Union. This movie remakes this history with a twist: what if the folks who built the bomb weren’t educated scientists, but a bunch of goofball yokels horsing around in their backyard? This one’s by Josiah, Lee, Davis, Jett, and Jackson:

Let’s check out another movie by Tulsa’s Compass Homeschool Initiative! This one is of Marion Dane Bauer’s 1987 Honor Book On My Honor. When Joel and Tony go out to play, Joel’s father forbids him to go anywhere beyond the bike path. Joel promises he won’t, “On my honor.” But when Tony dares Joel to climb a dangerous cliff, Joel does it. Not to be outdone, Joel suggests a swimming race, but then Tony drowns. Joel comes home, and at first doesn’t tell anyone what happened, but finally confesses. Here, Cooper, Mason, Lilly, Micah, and Duncan of Tulsa spice it up a bit. Instead of straying away from the bike path to have fun on the cliff, these kids stray away from Whole Foods to have fun at Walmart. And instead of Tony getting drowned, he is instead annihilated by his own heteronormativity in the girl’s toy department. Bonus points for the whiplash insanity of the conclusion:

Every year, we receive many amazing entries from Mr. Johnson’s fifth grade class at the Grant Center for Expressive Arts in Tacoma, Washington. The first one I’d like to highlight is an adaptation of Sterling North’s 1964 Honor Book Rascal: A Memoir Of A Better Era, the story of a boy and his pet raccoon.

(Fun fact: this Newbery Honor book actually indirectly caused untold damage all across the country of Japan. You see, Rascal was adapted into a Japanese cartoon series, Araiguma Rasukaru, which led to a mania for pet raccoons in that country. Soon the Japanese were importing around 1500 raccoons per month. Now, baby raccoons may be cute, but adult raccoons make terrible pets. Most Japanese families ended up releasing their troublesome full-grown raccoons into the wild, where they wreaked havoc. The Japanese government banned the import of raccoons, but the damage was done. Today, raccoons infest 42 of the 47 prefectures of Japan, rummaging and stealing, spreading rabies, destroying crops and damaging ancient temples with their sharp claws and abundant poop. Soooooo . . . great job, Sterling North.)

This clever and funny movie of Rascal has its own idea of what the raccoon did after he was released into the wild:

Here’s another entertaining movie from Tacoma’s Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, by Nevaeh, Olivia, Nick, Leo, and Addy. It’s based on “The Gingi,” one of the many spooky short stories in Patricia McKissack’s 1993 Honor Book The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. In the story, a mother foolishly buys a strange statue she sees in the window of a junk shop, even though she’s been warned not to. But the statue has an evil spirit in it—the Dabobo. Luckily, this mother also takes from the store a nicer-looking doll that looks like a monkey. The mother’s daughter is afraid of the evil statue, but she loves the monkey. Soon the evil statue is causing mischief in the house, although the monkey is trying hard to stop it. But what happens when the Dabobo goes beyond mere mischief? Will the family survive?

This movie is made with a twist: what if instead of a statue, the mother brought home a McDonald’s Happy Meal? And what if the evil Dabobo is actually an evil hamburger? I mean . . . what if?!?

Mr. Johnson’s class also did a unique adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet. That book is about a boy, Brian, who is going on a plane trip to visit his father. Before he leaves, his mother gives him a hatchet as a gift. (Wait, you can take a hatchet on a plane? Well, yeah . . . it was the eighties.) In any case, Brian’s going to need that hatchet, because his pilot dies of a heart attack mid-flight and they crash in the wilderness. Brian survives the plane crash . . . but can he survive hundreds of miles from civilization with nothing but a hatchet?

This movie is by Charlie, Owen, Abigail, JoVaughn, Oliver, and Jamirie, and it asks the question, what if Hatchet was more like the mega-popular video game Fortnite?

I also love seeing bonkers perspectives on the material. Everyone knows about Katherine Applegate’s heartwarming 2013 Medal Winner, The One and Only Ivan. But what if that story—about a silverback gorilla trapped in a bad zoo and his friendship with an elephant in that same zoo—was done in Claymation, in the style of a Lovecraftian body-horror Cronenberg nightmare? Indeed, what if the filmmakers discarded the plot entirely, and concentrated almost entirely on mind-bendingly disturbing monstrous Claymation effects? I mean . . . what if?

There were so many fantastic 90-Second Newbery movies we received for 2019. These movies only barely scratched the surface! But I hope this sampling inspires you to make your own movie for next year! And you can start making your movies now! The deadline is January 10, 2020. Get cracking . . . and you can find plenty of help at the 90-Second Newbery website!

Let’s wrap it up with some fun pictures from the various screenings. See you next year!

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.