“Trade and plum-cake forever, huzza!” So said John Newbery, the 18th-century publisher who first established children’s literature as a stand-alone segment of the literary marketplace. His name is attached to the world’s first children’s book prize, a distinguished honor and lucrative sales boost established in 1922 by the American Library Association. For the past six years, his name has also been attached to a more raucous celebration of creativity: the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Created and run by children’s author James Kennedy, this annual make-your-own-video contest invites young readers to condense any Newbery winner down to a 90-second film. Kids then get a chance to see their movies at gala screenings held all over the US, cohosted by Kennedy and local children’s writers.
Public Books section editor and Literature at MIT professor Marah Gubar, who studies youth culture, recently attended one of these joyously anarchic screenings. She didn’t win any books during the surprise giveaway that sent audience members scrambling under seats in search of golden tickets. But she did get to see Kennedy and his Boston-based cohost M. T. Anderson—author of Feed, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing …, and other award-winning young adult books—perform a witty musical number penned by Kennedy and focused on the history of the Newbery Medal. And she also got to speak to Kennedy afterward about the pros and cons of handing out prizes, what it means to be creative, intergenerational collaboration, and brains in jars.