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The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Illustrations by Tom Angleberger and Jason Rosenstock

Amulet Books, 2010.

141 pages.

Where haven’t you seen Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in the kidlitosphere? Angleberger even thanks the kidlitosphere in his Acknowledgements. I would like to the thank the kidlitosphere as well. It was an amusing 141+ pages.

What came to mind starting the read was The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. (You may have heard of those?) I think any fan of the Wimpy Kid Series would like Origami Yoda and those who are not such a fan will still like Origami Yoda. Mainly, I found Angleberger’s Tommy the less annoying protagonist of the two. And the scope of the book was smaller. Of course, I don’t think Angleberger is starting a series. He doesn’t have to develop a dramatic series while maintaining lighthearted juvenile humor.

The The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is not a Diary Journal.  It is a compilation of stories and commentary with a central question in mind: Is Origami Yoda for real? i.e. the first sentence of the book, “The big question: Is Origami Yoda Real?”

There is a reason Tommy needs to know, “Because I’ve got to decide whether to take his advice or not, and if I make the wrong choice, I’m doomed!” (1-2). Yes, Tommy is a bit dramatic, but who isn’t in 6th grade–especially where the opposite sex is concerned. And here lies the charm of the book:  taking the risk to like someone, either with romantic interest or just as a friend.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a case file. It is a collection of encounters with Origami Yoda by Tommy and his schoolmates. At the end of each story there is a comment by Tommy’s friend Harvey, and a comment by Tommy.

To try to make it really scientific, I let my friend Harvey comment on each story. Harvey has never, ever believed in Origami Yoda even for one second, and he still doesn’t. In fact, he says he is 100 percent sure that Origami Yoda is just a “green paperwad.” So he tried to find the “logical explanation” for all the really weird things that happened. (3)

The pages looked crumpled, as if an average 6th grader has been maintaining them. Of course, the typed font (even those that look penciled) are not the least bit crumpled and fully legible. Fonts change with the narrator of the story and their commentators. They are also reflective of their character: Harvey’s heavy, thick, and dark; Tommy’s light, flowing, youthful. The voices change to accommodate the individuals submitting a story, rather than have Tommy retell, re-write each. The only exception would be Kellen’s narratives where he uses a “recording thing” and requests that Tommy “edits out where [he] says ‘uh’,” which is frequent (17), but that is a transcription. The success of his alternating voices? I’m terrible at differentiating the human 6th grader, let alone a written one. Even most of N’s classmates sound remarkably alike, but I don’t read their writings either. Regardless, I like Angleberger’s story telling format.

Even with the changing narrators and scenarios, fonts and voices, the book/file is not disjointed. There is continuity. The headings of each file submission are printed on a sticker label in similar font. The doodles have repetition (mainly, Origami Yoda). That is the visual. With Tommy’s comments at the end of stories, he often introduces the next story in a smooth segue. The occurrences are collected with the feel of the chronological, though the stories are not dated. The story is also strung together by theme, there are repetitive elements (the twist, the sly smirk, relationships strengthening, Origami Yoda).

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda creates an accessible story for its audience without compiling short stories where the reader has to make the connections (no matter how obvious they might be).

***

Origami Yoda has some good advice. The finger puppet’s mixed-up sentences require interpretation; and their ambiguous nature fuels Tommy’s investigation. The characters have to take a risk and implement creative solutions to their problems. Angleberger is creative and enjoyable in his scenarios. His sampling of Origami Yoda’s questionable advice is just as amusing (“Origami Yoda and the Nasty Eighth-Grader,” 58-63; “Origami Yoda and the Unsatisfactory Answers”, 106-8).

The illustrations in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda can be a source of humor, of course. According to Tommy, the compiler of the case file notes, his friend Kellen “instead of adding anything useful, he just doodled all over it!” (3). The doodles are, well, there. I found them particularly humorous when Kellen’s crush Rhondella submitted a story of her Origami Yoda encounter, pages 103-4. Kellen paid extra attention to her portrait, adding notable embellishments where other characters received a simple line frame around their depiction.

There are places in which items are seen to be taped. This is a nice touch; particularly Dwight’s submitted In-School Suspension Slips on pages 76-7.

Like a good Comedy, the characters feel a bit exaggerated, namely Dwight (the uber-weird one)—or are they? When using Nerds, can you go too far? I suppose they should be identifiable, sympathy-worthy, while placing the reader as cooler than they. This way you could laugh but not be horrified and/or depressed.

Like a good Comedy, you can laugh still be able to catch the criticism. Maybe the atypical Harvey isn’t the better friend like he and everyone else might say. Where does Coolness and Indifference and Cultural Logic get you exactly? Tommy doesn’t want to be like anyone so much as maintain relative anonymity and get the positive attentions of one particular person. Whose advice does he listen to in order to get what he wants? He investigates, and he encourages the reader to investigate as well.

Again, the thinking doesn’t ruin the sheer entertainment factor of the book. Just the same, the now-ten-year-old-daughter was loudly protesting Harvey’s behavior as she was reading it. (She is most entertaining to watch reading, or with which to sit company.) The read was enforcing or reinforcing ideas of acceptable behaviors.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is deceptively simple. It is a well-wrought piece of juvenile fiction. It is a quick and entertaining read. It is charming and sympathetic. It is a bit silly and fun. And when the daughter gets home we are going to try to follow the instructions in the back of the book and make our own Origami Yoda. Then we’ll see if he has any advice for us and whether we want to listen to it or not. I’m fairly sure my imitation of Yoda will not be any better than Dwight’s, but just as clever?…

****

Links to the Reviews that had me picking up this book:

Stacy Dillon @ “Welcome to My Tweendom

Melissa @ “The Book Nut

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