My Father’s Dragon, The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell A Little Boy in Search of Adventure and Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story were among the long-forgotten Newbery book award winners that were revived by this year’s third annual 90 Second Newbery Film Festival in New York City.
On March 22, over three hundred fans gathered at the New York Public Library (NYPL) to view 23 of this year’s film entries. One attendee was eight year-old Mohana Buckley, the youngest filmmaker in attendance. Her film retold the 1924 story of Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story (Putnam) written by Anne Carroll Moore. The story follows eight-inch-tall Nicholas from Holland as he tours the sights of New York. The book is not widely available, and Mohana had discovered it in the Special Collection Room of the NYPL. She had her own Elf on the Shelf play the role of Nicholas in the film.
The event is an annual video competition in which kid filmmakers create movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in approximately 90 seconds. Created by James Kennedy, a Chicago-based author, who began the program three years ago, the festival now attracts over 100 film entries from throughout the country with festivals in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Tacoma.
According to Kennedy, he tailors each city’s festival to highlight local contributions. “Usually there are about 10 ‘ringers’ that I show in every city, and mixed in with them are about 10 entries made by locals that I might not show in every city.”
Students with Rochester Community Television’s Writers and Books summer camp produced three of the films presented. The films were created during the camp’s one-week program. During the week, the kids decide on the book, what elements of the plot to incorporate, and how the story will be told, according to one camp attendee Rashida Washington. In addition, the students write the script, gather the costumes, and decide on the sets before filming. Their Newbery book winner choices were Jennifer Holm’s Our Only May Amelia (HarperCollins, 1999), Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997), and Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw (Morrow, 1983).
“I get satisfaction from meeting the young filmmakers in various cities and having my mind blown by their creative adaptations of these books,” says the program’s creator Kennedy.
He explained that it takes multiple careful readings in order to boil a book down to 90 seconds. The retelling of the story in their own way gives the kids creative ownership of book. Kennedy says he’s witnessed kids enjoy exploring the technology it takes to shoot and edit the movies.
Although many of the filmmakers starred in their productions, others used film techniques such as claymation, like Max Lau and Jennings Mergenthal from Tacoma, Washington. Their film told the stories of both the first Newbery Winner, The Story of Mankind and An American Plague (Clarion, 2003). The entry When the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little Brown, 2009) was told using animation.
The New York festival was co-hosted by both Kennedy and YALSA’s Michael L Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature winner Libba Bray.
“I’d met Libba briefly at [an ALA event] and long admired her books,” Kennedy said to School Library Journal. “I’m glad she took time from her busy schedule. She was hilarious, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to become friends with her.”
Watch a clip of New York’s 90 Second Newbery Film Festival:
Want to create your own 90 Second Newbery film? Go to their website for details including tips, tricks, and strategies on creating a video. Deadline is December 20.