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Review of the Day: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

yoda cover 199x300 Review of the Day: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom AnglebergerThe Strange Case of Origami Yoda
By Tom Angleberger
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
$16.95
ISBN: 978-0-8109-8425-7
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

Let us now sit back and consider what the ultimate boy/girl middle grade novel would contain. By which I mean, the novel that perfectly balances out the stereotypical vision of what boys like in a book versus what stereotypical girls like in a book. You see these stereotypes referred to all the time. “Oh, boys won’t read anything with a pink cover.” “Oh, girls won’t pick up a book unless there’s some romance in it.” Phooey. Boys read Babymouse all the time and girls dig Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If the book is strong, the premise believable, and the characters well developed then you’re gonna have fans of all sorts, regardless of gender. That’s sort of how I approach The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. It’s been a while since I found a book that can truly be called genderless (in that it has wide appeal across the board). Sure, you might have a few folks avoid it because there appears to be a Star Wars reference on the cover, but c’mon. It’s a finger puppet of Yoda. That’s funny stuff. You can’t help but appreciate it, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of guys holding light sabers in outer space. Basically, funny books are the most requested books in the children’s rooms of libraries and the most difficult kinds of books to recommend. With Origami Yoda I don’t think I’ll have a lot of trouble getting this into the hands of kids. The premise sells itself.

Tommy comes right out with his dilemma on page one. “The big question: Is Origami Yoda real? . . . It’s REALLY important for me to figure out if he’s real. Because I’ve got to decide whether to take his advice or not, and if I make the wrong choice, I’m doomed!” It’s strange to think that Tommy would be this torn up over an origami finger puppet belonging to the school’s biggest dork. But then he starts recounting for us the wonders of Origami Yoda’s advice. It may not always be spot on, but it’s certainly heads and tales more intelligent than Dwight, the boy who created the puppet and who voices him (poorly). Example: How do you get out of a potentially embarrassing situation when you’re in the bathroom and you spill water on your pants so that it looks like you peed yourself? Origami Yoda says: “All of pants, you must wet.” See? Strangely good advice. Of course, then Tommy starts asking Origami about Sara, the girl he likes, and the answer he receives leaves him conflicted. Believe the talking folded paper or consider it a hoax and play it safe? The book is filled with little drawings and sidenotes as different classmates weigh in on the Origami Yoda conundrum.

It’s not as if author Tom Angleberger hasn’t written children’s books before. You just have to know how to find them. The first book of his that came to my attention was the great if too little lauded The Qwikpick Adventure Society (one of the rare books where you’ll find happy kids living in a trailer park, and where one us a Jehovah’s Witness). Alongside his other book Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run, Tom was writing under his pseudonym “Sam Riddleburger”. A cute name, sure, but it’s lovely to see him finally embrace his true name with this, his best book to date.

Why is it his best? Well, there’s how he tackles the character arc of Dwight, for one thing. Lots of books feature uncool kids, but very few are adept at pinpointing exactly why those kids are considered uncool. If you’re reading the book from that kid’s point of view then you will undoubtedly see how they’re just an average person dealing with the cruel dealings of their fellow classmates. Then, once in a great while, you’ll read a middle grade novel that separates the freaks from the geeks. A geek is someone who is usually punished for their extraordinary intelligence and lack of social skills. A freak is freaky. Fregley in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books is freaky. And Dwight in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is also freaky. Think about what it would be like to go to middle school with Andy Kaufman and you’ve a vague approximation of Dwight’s frame of mind. Even Dwight’s name is a clue. In this day and age, characters with the name Dwight (think of the American version of the show The Office) are set apart from the pack. The difference is that in Origami Yoda, Angleberger invites you to ridicule and dislike Dwight as much as the other kids do, right at the start. Then he begins the slow, meticulous process of not only humanizing him, but also making it clear that just because you write someone off for being strange, that doesn’t mean that other folks are going to do the same thing. It’s a book that discusses tolerance of others in terms that kids are actually going to understand and be interested in. And that, to my mind, is what gives the book that little added lift it needs to set it apart from the pack.

Speaking of details, for such a seemingly obvious novel, there were lots of little details I enjoyed in it. For example, the fact that owning and enjoying the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack is considered uncool makes for a fantastic character detail. And nobody, but nobody, zeroes in on the cheesy stuff adults make and do like Angleberger. At certain points in the story you get a glimpse of the school’s posters for the PTA Fun Nights. They’re a horrific combination of bad puns, even worse clip art, and cheesy wordplay. And I won’t even go into Mr. Good Clean Fun and Soapy the Monkey. I’ll let you discover that little joy on your own.

Star Wars is forever, so I was a little sad to see American Idol references made in the book. Interestingly, while I feel that the first three Star Wars films are now and forever, American Idol is just a flash in the pan phenomenon that will date this text far faster than anything. Maybe if this book garners the right amount of attention they can change the text in the future to whatever pop hit television show is on the telly then. And honestly, I really do think that the book is going to stick around for a while. Kids who want funny books will grab it. It makes a rather striking companion to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, particularly when you take into account the interstitial drawings. Boys will like it, girls will like it, adults will like it, even educated fleas will like it. For a fun middle grade that dares to rise a little higher than the usual crop, place your bets on The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Or, in the words of the great warrior himself, “Enjoy book, you soon will.”

On shelves now.

Source: Reviewed from galley copy from publisher.

Notes on the Cover: Here’s the thing about this book.  While it may contain instructions in the back on how to make your own origami Yoda finger puppet, the book says right there, “So I begged and begged Dwight to teach me how to make an Origami Yoda.  When he finally showed me, I couldn’t figure it out.  All I could get was a blog.  So Dwight taught me how to make a simpler one.”  That’s the puppet we are instructed on how to make.  However, it is well worth noting that that is NOT the puppet gracing the cover of this book.  That Origami Yoda is perfect.  There’s something distinctly creepy about the way the folds of the paper create his forehead and ears.  You can almost make out the stern set of his mouth.  Add in the awesome lightsaber and the images of fighter jets and the Death Star behind him and well . . . this is perfect.  An absolutely perfect cover.  Cheers, Melissa Arnst and Chad Beckerman.  You done good.

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Interviews: Madelyn Rosenberg interviews Tom on all sorts of things.

Misc:

  • Be sure you head on over to Mishaps and Adventures where skilled Art Director Chad Beckerman shows the evolution of the current cover.  For that matter, read the comment section where Tom explains what his original idea was instead.
  • For cool things like how to make both the simple and the complex Origami Yoda (and host of other pieces of awesomeness) go here.
  • Read a chapter sample.
  • Tom told the story behind the story when he contributed a guest post to Cynsations.  If you’re wondering how he managed to get a character like Yoda on the cover a children’s book in the first place, here’s where you can find out.
  • BoingBoing points out where Tom got the original idea for this book.

Videos:

Here’s a step-by-step explanation behind how one goes about making an Origami Yoda (and this blog post talks about a kid putting it to good use):

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. 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 NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Brenda Kahn says:

    Thanks for linking to my post about Origami Yoda!

    Just tonight, I presented a “Ten in Ten” Summer Reading talk to my school’s PTO and I led off with Origami Yoda. One of the other books that I included was Heroes of the Environment by Harriet Rohmer, which was highlighted in the latest issue of Booklinks. It sure is nice to be validated.

    bk

  2. tanita says:

    I loved the premise when I read about this at Cynsations, and I love that I can now make an origami Yoda myself. I cracked up at the pants wetting thing. I remember that from real life, when I taught the fifth grade…! Boys coming in and whispering urgently to me, “I didn’t pee — it’s water!” Yes, thank you, Tom, for that very real moment. He has voice pitch-perfect here.

  3. Jennifer in GA says:

    I have been on the hold list at my library for-ev-er for this book!

  4. Looks like a great book. Will add it to my list! On a side note, I’m wondering about books being dated. I’d love to hear what you think about why it’s okay and even good to date historical fiction with all sorts of details (pop culture and other) but it’s not okay to date contemporary fiction in the same way. Wouldn’t a mention of American Idol place this book squarely in the early 21st Century? What’s wrong with that? Hmmm…

  5. Fuse #8 says:

    Why that is EXACTLY the question I covered in my recent Horn Book article “Friending Mr. Henshaw”. I believe it appeared in the March/April issue, in case you’re interested. The eternal question: Do you want your book to be a historical document or relevant to teens regardless of the era?

  6. Sondy says:

    Darn! I read that book over the weekend, but didn’t get my review written before yours. You do such a thorough, excellent job, you’re a tough act to follow. :)
    This book was tremendous fun. I definitely want to have it up my sleeve to hand to kids when all the copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid are checked out. Personally, I liked Origami Yoda a lot better.

  7. Matt says:

    AWESOME review! My copy is in the mail as I type this – I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since one of my students picked up a copy at the book fair and flaunted it before me. Enjoy it, I will.

  8. Madelyn says:

    Love the Andy Kaufman in middle school comparison!

  9. Tara says:

    Thanks so much for your review and the link! You’ve mentioned this issue before but this video really underscores the frustration for me of NOT being able to access YouTube through our school filter. I’m starting to comment on SO many of the YouTube clips that it would be great if the video would be published on Teacher Tube also. :)

  10. dotdotdot says:

    I love selling folks on Origami Yoda, and everytime I talk it up I can’t help but to describe the showdown when Dwight’s Yoda goes up against that jerky kid’s opportunistically-assembled-Yoda. I just relish gesturing those two pinkies, each bearing imaginary finger puppets, facing off against each other in a battle of the advice-giving-paper-figures. Man do I love that book.

  11. WendieO says:

    Our library’s catalog is confused. It has the book listed as
    The strange case of Origami Yoda / Tom Angleberger.
    by Riddleburger, Sam.

    Aberdeen Branch Juvenile Fiction J Riddleburger
    All copies in our 10 branch system = checked out. (I’m now number 8 on the reserve list.
    -w

  12. Bridget Heos says:

    My sons, 7 and 9, loved this book. They were laughing out loud, so I thought Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, when they started telling me about it, it sounded like it had a lot of heart, too. I liked your description of freaks vs. geeks. My older son called Dwight a “loser.” I don’t know if that’s what he was called in the book…sounds a little harsh. But even hearing my son describe him, I could picture Dwight. I love kids like that–whether as characters or in real life.

  13. I hardly know what to say. It’s every author’s dream to have someone carefully read their book and really grok it and then to spread the word. Betsy, you’ve done that for me twice now!

    As for American Idol … when I was writing the book 3(?) years ago it seemed like it would last forever.

    Bridget: I hate to use the word “loser” for Dwight, but honestly that’s what I think the other kids would have thought of him at the beginning of this story.

    Tara: Perhaps you can access the folding video on StarWars.com. Surely no school would block Star Wars!

    DotDotDot: Thanks for using your pinkies to explain the book! I’d love to have a video of that!

  14. Bridget Heos says:

    Thanks for clarifying, Tom. I’m glad to hear “loser” was in the book vs. my son calling Dwight that on his own. Thanks for writing a great book! I love hearing my kids laugh out loud while they’re reading–and I know there was more to the story than that!

  15. I just finished up a blog post on the evolution of the Origami Yoda cover.

    http://cwdesigner.blogspot.com/2010/05/evolution-of-the-strange-case-of.html

Trackbacks

  1. [...] send your pictures of the week to sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com. “Origami Yoda” (Abrams/Amulet) author Tom Angleberger walks on stage at ALA Midwinter 2013 dressed as Origami C3PO [...]

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