"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} a rebel alliance

origami yoda jabba the puppettThe Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett: An Origami Yoda Book

by Tom Angleberger

Amulet Books, 2013

hardcover, 208 pages + folding instructions.

Dark times have fallen on McQuarrie Middle School. Dwight’s back—and not a moment too soon, as the gang faces the FunTime Menace: a new educational program designed to raise students’ standardized test scores. Instead, it’s driving everyone crazy with its obnoxious videos of Professor FunTime and his insidious singing calculator! When Principal Rabbski cancels the students’ field trip—along with art, music, and LEGO classes—to make time for FunTime, the students turn to Origami Yoda for help. But some crises are too big for Origami Yoda to handle alone: Form a Rebel Alliance the students must. United, can they defeat the FunTime Menace and cope with a surprise attack from Jabba the Puppett?—publisher’s comments

When I held this up in triumph, coming out of the Library, my 13 year old sighed. With the wisdom of a new 8th grader she had to wonder over the plausibility of middle-schoolers with finger puppets. Did I mention she is attending an Art School? I will ask her again mid-year. Meanwhile I wondered, “Do you not interact with your male classmates?!” I also reminded her that she does interact with her male classmates in math class over geek-sessions regarding certain Doctors both Horrible and Who. I am going to convince her to read The Secret of The Fortune Wookie which is all about celebrating the awesome existence of the SFF nerd-girl. As it was, the brief conversation of shrugs ended with mine, “I find them entertaining, and very pleasantly dangerous.”

I’m sure there are those who see the obvious Star Wars tie-ins and think “gimmick” or clever merchandising and continue on to check-out with it or dismiss them out of hand. The clever isn’t in gaining Lucasfilm Limited’s permission, it’s in convincing people that these are harmless easy pop culture fare that are sure to entice the reluctant male reader. Really the intelligence is in the way Tom Angleberger captures the angst, quirk and wit of middle-grade humans, encourages them to continue as such and gives them a voice.

In The Surprise Attack, fears anticipated in the previous novel are realized. The art, music, drama, LEGO-robotics, yearbook, field trips…and yes, even sports are cancelled and replaced with the FunTime educational program designed to send the sane screaming to the fields, I mean, get those standardized test scores back up. Feeling frustrated and powerless, Tommy and others turn to a figure who (however uncannily) has yet to let them down. Under the advice of Origami Yoda (as wielded by the returned Captain Dwight), the Origami Rebel Alliance is formed and Star Wars characters are dispensed with the Origami Yoda characters in mind. [Part of the entertainment in these books is how Angleberger finesses Star Wars story-lines and characters into a vision that is very much his own.] Yes, Angleberger empowers his middle-school students to rebel against the powers that be.

“That’s the crazy thing about this whole rebellion business. You can’t always tell who is going to be a rebel and who’s just going to be lame.” ~Tommy

Protest takes several forms through the course of The Surprise Attack. A few of the core ideas found in the advice: consider risk, timing, and focus. Selfish motives aren’t going to wash, like not wanting to do sit-ups in P.E. The book advocates peaceful protest, for example, Remi would like to do something about colossally annoying path-hogging behavior. In the book it is the three BFFs walking down the hall in a line at their own pace oblivious (or uncaring) that no one can get by. On Larimer it is the three-to-five-or-eight mimicking aforementioned behavior but with the added frustration of teasing you with small gaps that you really wish you could negotiate. Sometimes Angleberger’s books find an echo in the most unexpected ways. Remi and company come up with a plan (with Origami Yoda’s encouragement). It’s good stuff. There are petitions, letters, education and recruitment, fearful explanations to parents…

Arguments are made from different sides: the administrators concerned with public opinion and money and their students’ future;parent’s concerned with their children respect of authority, mental health (i.e. maturity), and their academic career present and future; young people concerned about their whole education and being competitive with their peers at other schools as they proceed into, you know, their future. The challenge is in seeking out the right solution to the problem at hand and marshaling forces behind it. The adults (at first) appear to only need to be in an immediate position of authority. The young people in the novel (and outside of it) must learn to articulate their concerns and persuade others to their side—as well as figure out how to adjust to those surprises that crop up—especially the one involving Jabba the Puppett.

Angleberger does drama and humor well, and most importantly he is thoughtful about it. He is entertaining, and he translates a lot of human anxiety into brave smiles, but he is also very careful with what he would have his audience know. Rebellion is a complex topic and one he tackles rather deftly—you get that much of the novel’s aplomb stems from the author’s confidence in his young characters and their readers.

The novel ends on with one of those “to be continued” ellipses after creating more intrigue than it resolves. Will the Alliance succeed? Is the Dwight/Origami Yoda mystery really as schizophrenic as it appeared in this novel? Will Harvey reveal his hidden crush?*

——————————————–

recommendations: boys, girls, 9-12, not only for fans of Star Wars, though there are references galore. a good read together series… like paper folding, crafty in general, read humor, and/or you live in Texas and attend public schools…

*I’m betting it’s Sara. Watch out Tommy.

L’s previous Origami Yoda book reviews (wherein you’ll get more of my response to the writing style, etc.)

(#1) The Strange Case of Origami Yoda 

(#2) Darth Paper Strikes Back

(#3) The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series

{book} the secret of the fortune wookiee

Tom Angleberger is a household favorite. [After borrowing it from the Library, Natalya insisted on owning Fake Mustache —review pending, but know she has read it and referenced it often.] I think Origami Yoda is brilliant and was pleased at how well Darth Paper followed suit. Needless to say, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee was a must.

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger

Amulet Books, 2012.

hardcover, 190 pages + paper folding instructions (which are available here, too).

Library borrowed.

With Dwight attending Tippett Academy this semester, the kids of McQuarrie Middle School are on their own—no Origami Yoda to give advice and help them navigate the treacherous waters of middle school. Then Sara gets a gift she says is from Dwight—a paper fortune-teller in the form of Chewbacca. It’s a Fortune Wookiee, and it seems to give advice that’s just as good as Yoda’s—even if, in the hands of the girls, it seems too preoccupied with romance. In the meantime, Dwight is fitting in a little too well at Tippett. Has the unimaginable happened? Has Dwight become normal? It’s up to his old friends at McQuarrie to remind their kooky friend that it’s in his weirdness that his greatness lies.
With his proven knack for humorously exploring the intrigues, fads, and dramas of middle school, Tom Angleberger has crafted a worthy follow-up to his breakout bestsellers The Strange Case of Origami Yoda andDarth Paper Strikes Back.—Publisher’s comments.

I know that boys have and will gravitate toward this series, and it is good that they do, but I really encourage the girls to take them up as well—they will especially enjoy Fortune Wookiee. And maybe I am just biased, but I think geeked-out girls are awesome. And awesomeness is a concern in Fortune Wookiee.

Who likes boring? I’m with Tommy, I would choose weird over boring any day. Fortunately for Tommy, he soon finds school weird enough to warrant a case file and is able to leave boring behind. Tommy finds himself faced with two major questions: What force is driving the Fortune Wookie and what is going on with Dwight at his new school?

Students and staff at Dwight’s new school believe they are being Understanding and caring, and Dwight thinks normal is a benefit, but I think any reader will share Caroline, Tommy, and even Harvey’s sense of panic in this situation. Dwight is rapidly losing that which makes him awesome; awesome, not “special.” “Special” is a demoralizing term here and makes anyone not-normal into an object to be pitied rather than a person only looking for acceptance (quirks included). It becomes increasingly creepy how “Understanding” and its principles seem to have a homogenizing effect on the students. The interesting thing about the criticism the book offers is how it functions as more of a cautionary tale than an all-out-dismissal of the intentions behind the actions. So much comes down to how well we know people and make the effort to understand them as they are—presently. Yes, there is a bit about people changing and growing up—something Middle Schoolers would really like people to notice.

The comedic episodes that make up the case file (aka The Fortune Wookie) have plenty say to its young readers even as it commiserates with them. How do we survive middle school with our singular sense of self intact? and seriously, what is the Big Pink, grandma? It is Angleberger’s sense of humor and personality-rich characters that make this read as fun as it is meaningful.

-{left: Han Foldo translates for Chewbacca, of course}

recommendations: any and all middle-grade student, Star Wars fan or no, though fans will get the references the easiest.  (I would love for a Whovian to do a series in Angleberger’s fashion.) for those who like humor; stories about friendship; are interested in activism; and dig origami or kirigami.

of note: >>It helps to read these books in order; Angleberger finesses some of the smoothest transitions between books in a series I’ve seen, but there is a lot of development over its course. >>Angleberger introduces a thread that makes for a highly anticipated next book. Principal Rabbski is implementing a new program that means “so long Arts & Music Ed”…all electives actually. I love how he addresses Middle School concerns beyond relationship troubles. Spend five minutes with N or friends on the subject of music, art, drama, etc. in schools and you will know these young people are not dispassionate on the subject of what is happening in their schools and with their education.

From Origamiyoda.wordpress on the next book

Art2-D2′s Guide to Folding and Doodling: An Origami Yoda Activity Book

Coming in March!
(see, I told you it would be pretty soon!)

This IS a case file, but it’s Kellen’s case file. (Tommy gets a few words in, too. And — unavoidably! — so does Harvey!)

It will be full of instrux for all kinds of stuff. I am really excited about and have worked like crazy on it. I hope you guys are going to like it!!!

And what of Rabbski and The FunTime Menace? Stay tuned….

my reviews of Origami Yoda (2010) and Darth Paper Strikes Back (2011)

{images belong to Abrams (of which Amulet is an imprint)}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series

Darth Paper Strikes Back

Darth Paper Strikes Back : An Origami Yoda Book

by Tom Angleberger

Amulet Books, 2011.

159 pages, hardcover.

Requested this from the Library. And would I have elbowed a middle-schooler to get this one off the “Lucky Day” Shelf first? Yes. Yes, I would have. But I didn’t have to. There was one on the Hold shelf waiting just for me.

It is a dark time at Ralph McQuarrie Middle School. After suffering several Origami Yoda-related humiliations, Harvey manages to get Dwight suspended from school for being a “troublemaker.” Origami Yoda pleads with Tommy and Kellen to save Dwight by making a new case file—one that will show how Dwights presence benefits McQuarrie. With the help of their friends, Tommy and Kellen record cases such as “Origami Yoda and the Pre-eaten Wiener,” “Origami Yoda and the Exploding Pizza Bagels,” and “Origami Yoda and Wonderland: The Musical.” But Harvey and his Darth Paper puppet have a secret plan that could make Dwights suspension permanent . . .

With his proven knack for humorously exploring the intrigues, fads, and dramas of middle school, Tom Angleberger has crafted a worthy sequel to his breakout bestseller.~Publisher’s Comments

It is true that Tom Angleberger has a “proven knack for humorously exploring the intrigues, fads, and dramas of middle school.” In this wonderful sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back features girlfriend angst, dating, video game criticism, electives, fund-raising, that annoying kid, body odor, and cafeteria food. It addresses that feeling of helplessness in an environment that seems only to take things away. Without the provision of a platform for protest, solutions (options), or compromise, Tommy and others find a voice and a way in and around the system. Darth Paper does this with a lot of humor, of course.

Like the Origami Yoda, Darth Paper is told via an opening and closing narratives with stories (“cases”) sandwiched in between. Where the first book would explore the authenticity of Dwight’s claims that Origami Yoda is for real, this case file sets out to argue for the strange paper-folding Dwight’s place at McQuarrie Middle School. Again there are stories by various narrators whom Angleberger captures and maintains consistency with enviable ease. Kellen provides the drawings, and even Harvey manages to add his two cents to every entry. The book, too, would illustrate the value even the annoying jerks might have.

And of course, there is the return of Star Wars references and themes. While I don’t think you can enjoy book one without having seen any of the Star Wars films/stories, pop culture being what it is, I think fans will find even greater wit and charm in Darth Paper, especially the dark origami finger puppets quotes.

***********

Origami Yoda provides oft cryptic answers to the most pressing questions, and the way the said answers play out create wonderful intrigue, but also space for creative problem-solving. This should never be phrased this way when handing this book to a middle-schooler. Angleberger has brilliantly realized a venue. His books are a place for readers to commiserate, laugh, and remember their own potential without making the book into another steeply dramatic exploratory scenario realist fiction.

I like Angleberger’s solutions, some yet open-ended, others in the form of a nicely placed resurrection of old pencil war games, I mean, in the form of seeking out a nice teacher (because they do exist) for help finding solutions to your problems. Primarily it is the book’s playful yet serious engagement in conversations intelligent and passionate young people are having; ones they should have some encouragement vocalizing to the powers that be. If anything, it is good practice for all the other authoritative institutions they will grow up to encounter. Am I hinting at some healthy subversive tone in Darth Paper? Yes. Jimmy Gownley’s wondermous series Amelia Rules! was happily recalled. I would give these as a boxed set.

And speaking of comics (long or otherwise), Tommy gifts his love interest with Robot Dreams by Sara Varon. You could read the placement into the story, but I was just giddy to see its mention. Just go ahead and hand your son or daughter Robot Dreams when you give them Darth Paper Strikes Back. If either you and/or the middle-school aged person in your life haven’t even read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, then I suggest you remedy this immediately. Tom Angleberger and his novels really are just too fantastic to miss.

**********

Books’ Website.

My review of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

My review of Robot Dreams.

"review" · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend

…The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset

Horton Halfpott

or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor

or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset

by Tom Angleberger (w/illus. by author)

Amulet Books, 2011

206 pages, hardcover.

Loved Origami Yoda* so when I saw Mr. Angleberger had another due, I requested it from the Library…yes, it took this long.

“There are so many exciting things in this book—a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates—that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies underwear” (1).

It was an odd segue to finish watching BBC’s Downton Abbey: Season One (2010) and begin reading Horton Halfpott. Downton Abbey is a series about both the family and the servants who live in the palatial home called Downton. In Horton Halfpott the invisible workings of an aristocratic estate is also featured—Horton being the humblest member of the staff—a kitchen boy, doomed to wash dishes and polish silver for a mere penny a week.  However, I am guessing that a middle-grade boy would find Downton Abbey considerably less interesting than Horton Halfpott, despite the fact that both harbor “unbridled Evil.” For one, there are yet to be any Shipless Pirates, and, two, it would be highly improper to discuss ladies underwear or heroes’ armpits in Downton Abbey.

So Horton Halfpott isn’t nighttime telly or PBS Masterpiece Theater. Nor was it meant. And while Tom Angleberger cites Charles Dickens as inspiration, the 203 pages of Horton Halfpott is considerably more lightly weighted. The narrator caters to the middle-grader who partakes in juvenile humor, knows about various smells, and cares only to stomach the slightest hint of romance—okay, so maybe not just the middle-grader.

The Narrator is a storyteller eager to share this story about Horton Halfpott, and how “the Loosening” made way for all kinds “Unprecedented Marvels.” The Dear Reader is energetically addressed as one who is sure to find the comedy and the heart in Horton Halfpott’s story; as one who can empathize; and as one who can smile at the appropriately “inappropriate” times.

 “When Portnoy S. Pomfrey solved the Case of the Sultan’s Sapphire, the sultan kindly offered to reward St. Pomfrey with anything he wished. St. Pomfrey asked for the hand of the sultan’s daughter in marriage.

When the sultan pointed out that his daughter was already married with three children, St. Pomfrey said he would settle for the “magnificent carriage” parked behind the sultan’s palace instead.

The sultan was too polite to tell St. Pomfrey that this was really the Royal Outhouse. Instead, he ordered the outhouse set on wheels and shipped to England. St. Pomfrey has ridden in it ever since, always wondering about the lingering odor and lack of windows.”(49-50)

Horton Halfpott isn’t a naughty, mischievous boy protagonist just for the sake of it. And he tries to do what is right, even when everyone else is “misbehaving.” He has to be his own person, and  clever, and brave. And he still figuring out what that means exactly.

“Horton was undergoing a Loosening of his own. […] Perhaps, he began to realize, not every preposterous pronouncement of M’Lady Luggeruck needed to be obeyed. Nor every tyrannical decree of Miss Neversly. Nor every unwritten law of propriety that prevented kitchen boys from befriending young ladies” (140).

The characters are marvelously ridiculous; though not to be dismissed, of course. Many are quite dangerous. The ones who hold the power are most especially threatening. Alas, the adventure wouldn’t be much of one without peril, and the villains wouldn’t be nearly so terrifying if they hadn’t resembled Luther, or M’Lady, or the spoon-wielding cook Ms. Neversly.

It is wonderful that the corset is not an Enhancer, but a tormentive restriction that creates the greater horror that is M’Lady Luggertuck. “Imagine being pinched like that day after day, year after year. It could make a nice lady into a mean one. So imagine what it would do to a lady like M’Lady Luggertuck, who was a nasty beast to start” (2). Better is how the corset comes to symbolize repression and indignity in varying degrees for all the characters (and greater society). [Don’t worry, it’s subtle enough.]

One thing I love about the narrative is how the narrator will reference another story—nothing Literary I assure you.

(You’ll notice that forks were not mentioned. Faithful readers will remember that M’Lady Luggertuck had had a fear of forks ever since the events recounted in “M’Lady Luggertuck Hires a Tattooed Nanny.”) (55).

Or

“Old Crotty soon discovered that someone had ransacked M’Lady Luggertuck’s writing desk! This upset M’Lady Luggertuck greatly, since she had several letters in that desk that it would have been best if no one else had ever read. (See “M’Lady Luggertuck Meets a Handsome Frenchman.”)” (66)

There is plenty of comedy and adventure in the course of a mystery of a stolen diamond, and the narrator is keen to engage the reader in it. I think you should oblige him or her. You can save Downton Abbey for another time.

**************

Horton Halfpott had me thinking of Kate McMullen’s fantastic chapter book series Dragon Slayers’ Academy (Grosset & Dunlap); we read this series to Natalya when she was in early elementary school–fun for the whole family.

Don’t let this be only a boy’s book, girl’s will appreciate–at the very least–the character Celia, a independently thinking girl who is quick, and owns a bicycle.

*my review of Origami Yoda.

and Darth Paper Strikes Back comes out late August 2011! yay!

Book’s website.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend

do or do not there is no try

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