Lights, Action, Roll ‘Em…with “Professor Puffendorf’s Secret Potion” by Robin Tzannes and Korky Paul.

Kathy Hughes is doing the coolest project with her fifth grade reading class at Carrie Busie Elementary in Champaign, IL.3307417

She started with “Professor Puffendorf’s Secret Potion,” a book by Robin Tzannes and Korky Paul (Checkerboard Press 1992). The students read the book and asked if they could see the movie.

Ms. Hughes said, “Sure.”

But there was no movie. So the girls asked if they could make their own movie.

Ms. Hughes, being the kind of great teacher she is, said, “Sure. You need to write your own parts.”

But first, since the story is set in a science laboratory, the class brainstormed ideas of what might be invented. Ms. Hughes gave her students dry markers and they wrote right on the formica desk tops. Very cool.

There just happen to be three characters in the book and three students in the class, so it was not too difficult to divide up the roles.



Professor Puffendorf, the protagonist – Geneva

Slag, the antagonist – Chevelle

Chip, the hamster – Anya


The girls knew the story well and could ad lib the story with lines and action. And they could switch roles for various takes.

Ms. Hughes brought in some big white shirts that looked like lab coats. The girls felt they looked a lot more hip, unbuttoned, so Ms. Hughes shrugged and said “Well, okay.” It was their production, after all.

Ms. Hughes filmed them with her flip camera (which she’d won at a teacher raffle the previous year). The girls reviewed their work as it played on the computer and noted that the flapping white shirts looked wrong. So they buttoned up the oversized shirts so they’d look more like lab coats.

They were able to watch their performance, self-correct, re-dramatize and improve their roles and do take two. It looked pretty good.

They entered titles, characters, and cast members for their production on the computer, and printed them out. These, they held up to the camera for the credits.

Three. Roll em–the complete drama of “Professor Puffendorf’s Secret Potion” self-directed by self-observation by the actors, with a new dramatic ending. Cut.

Next, they get to invite a friend to come watch their production which Ms. Hughes had transferred to a DVD.

There are plenty of other stories that you could enact and film. We’d all love to hear what books you think might work for this project. Or simply what book-centered projects you’re working on in your classroom. You don’t have to be a teacher to contact me. I’d love to hear from students. Or parents.



Now this is cool:  Illinois children’s author James Kennedy has started the 90 Second Newbery Film Festival. This is what you do. Make a video that compresses the story of a Newbery award-winning book into 90 seconds or less. Submit it to the film festival. The films have been shown at the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library and next, to be shown in Portland, Oregon. Watch the films and find out more, here.


Above: James and friend read his book. And to the right: his book: Order of the Odd Fish.






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