Guest Post: The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival Is Back, Baby!
Do you know about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? It’s an annual video contest in which kid filmmakers create short movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds (adult help OK). Participants often put creative twists on the material—think Charlotte’s Web in the style of a horror movie, or The Tale of Despereaux reimagined as a musical, or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon done with shadow puppets.
I’m James Kennedy, the founder of the 90-Second Newbery and the author of the YA fantasy The Order of Odd-Fish. I’ve been running this film festival for 12 years now—in fact, Betsy and I debuted it on this very blog back in 2011. Thanks, Betsy!
Up until the pandemic hit in 2020, the 90-Second Newbery featured the best kid-made in big live screenings at libraries in 10+ cities across the country: from New York to San Antonio, from Boston to San Francisco, co-hosted by me and other award-winning authors like M.T. Anderson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Bruce Coville, and Linda Sue Park.
For the past two years, though, we’ve been doing mostly virtual screenings. (Check out this year’s opening video above, in which author Keir Graff and I commemorate this year’s HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the Newbery award—and learn about the HORRIFYING PROPHECY that comes true on the centenary.)
We hope to bring back our live screenings in 2023. This is my invitation to you to make and submit a movie! Whether you’re at a school, or a library, or doing this as a family project, or working individually—I invite you and whatever kids you can round up to make 90-Second Newbery movies in time for our January 13, 2023 deadline (with a special Texas deadline of March 3, 2023.) It’s a great project! Never made a movie before? You’ll find lots of help at the 90-Second Newbery website, including step-by-step instructions for first-timers, including help in screenwriting, cinematography, green screen, editing, and more.
Let’s get inspired by checking out some of best movies we’ve received recently!
This first one is based on “Dragons and Giants” from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, in which Frog and Toad try a bunch of adventures to prove they’re brave, but they end up running away in fear every time. We love it when the kid filmmakers do weird things to the original story, and this movie definitely does. In this version, Frog is a marine and Toad is a ninja. Here, Porter, Alec, and friends of Hinsdale, Illinois remake Frog and Toad Together as an action movie!
The next movie is based on Russell Freedman’s 1988 Newbery Medal winner, Lincoln: A Photobiography—but done in the style of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton! Ladies and gentlemen, the family of picture book author Aaron Zenz gives you Abrahamilton:
The next movie is based on Holly Black’s 2014 Honor Book Doll Bones—but in the style of Stranger Things! Instead of a doll of a girl, it’s a doll of the Demogorgon that got loose from a lab. Check out how the character of Zach’s mom really channels that unhinged Winona Ryder energy.
The next movie is based on William Steig’s 1983 Honor Winner Doctor DeSoto, a picture book about a mouse dentist and his wife who decide to take care of a fox with a toothache, even though there’s a risk the fox might eat them. This movie, from Grant Center for the Expressive Arts in Tacoma, Washington, tells the story with a twist: in this version, the dentist husband and wife are normal humans, but the fox is a vampire!
I always appreciate it when kids make movies based on more obscure Newbery winners. The next one is based on the 1972 Honor Book Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles. It’s about Annie, a young Navajo girl, who wants to stop her mother from finishing weaving a rug. Why? Because Annie heard her beloved grandmother say that she, her grandmother, will die when the rug is finished. Annie misbehaves in school, lets the family’s sheep escape, and even tries to pull out the strands of yarn from the rug, one by one. But from her grandmother Annie learns even she cannot change the course of life. This one is done in beautifully elaborate stop-motion animation:
And these movies are just the beginning! I hope they inspire you to make your own movie for next year. And you can start making your movies now! The general deadline is January 13, 2023, but you can turn them in anytime. It’s such a fun project, and you learn a lot. Get cracking . . . and remember, you can find plenty of help at the 90-Second Newbery website.
See you at the movies!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy 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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