The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

by Kelly Lynn Thomas

Tommy’s sixth grade class is pretty average. There are popular kids and weird kids, and everyone is trying to figure out how they fit in.

Like other sixth grade classes, one of the kids—Dwight in this case—is an origami whiz and invented his own origami Yoda finger puppet who gives sage advice to Dwight and the other kids in the class.

Wait, what? Origami Yoda gives sage advice? Sage advice far beyond Dwight’s years or level of intelligence? Okay, so maybe it isn’t a totally normal sixth grade class after all.

Tommy collects stories, both good and bad, from all the kids who got advice from Yoda. He puts them in a case file for the very important purpose of figuring out whether Origami Yoda is for real—and whether or not he should make a fool of himself for Sara, the cutest girl in the class.

His friend Harvey, who believes Origami Yoda is nothing more than a paper wad, comments on each story in the file, and another of Tommy’s friends provides drawings and illustrations. Tommy attempts to provide a counterpoint to Harvey’s cynical comments while remaining neutral until he cracks the case.

The book is presented on “crumpled” paper with faux handwriting that’s different for each character. Each chapter title is a “label” that looks like a sticker. There are drawings of Origami Yoda, the characters, and Star Wars space ships throughout the book.

The author is also an artist, so I have to wonder if the drawings and presentation of the book were his idea or the publisher’s. Since Tommy talks about the drawings and the case file in the introduction, I’m assuming Angleberger intended the book to be presented this way from the beginning. Far from being gimmicky, the illustrations and presentation are quite charming, and the instructions to make your own origami Yoda included in the back of the book give you a chance to test Tommy’s theories on your own—or at least your knowledge of Yoda quotes.

As far as the writing itself goes (and that is, of course, the most important part of any book), Angleberber does a wonderful job with the voices. The characters didn’t sound like an adult trying to sound like a sixth-grader; they sounded like actual sixth-graders.

Fifth- and sixth-graders, especially Star Wars fans, will relate to the social anxieties and pressures Tommy and his friends deal with. Big kids will love the advice Origami Yoda gives and delight in the fact that a new generation of Star Wars fans ensures plenteous action figures and other merchandise for many years to come.

While reading the book a mere day before I flew down to Orlando for the Star Wars “Celebration V” convention, I found myself thinking back to my days as a sixth-grader and wondering if I said the same things and acted the same way these characters do.

My memory is too full of useless Star Wars trivia to remember much from those heady days, but I do at least remember my first crush, wondering if he even knew I existed (I’m still convinced he didn’t), and wondering what would happen if Luke Skywalker came to my karate class to recruit for the Jedi order and whether or not I would make the cut. So yeah, I think the book is pretty spot-on when it comes to sixth-graders.

The narrative never deviates from the question Tommy asks in the beginning: Is Origami Yoda real? This straight-forward plot makes room for the mini-narratives in each chapter. These anecdotes, told in the first person by all the different students who took advice from Origami Yoda, illustrate the antics and problems sixth-graders deal with on a daily basis: socializing, getting stains in embarrassing places, breaking school property.

Each story does an excellent job of telling us about its main character, reminding us that being a kid isn’t all sunshine and roses, and advancing the primary narrative, all without bogging down the story or going off on tangents, like when Luke left Jedi training to save his friends. In case you didn’t know, that tangent wound up with Luke getting his hand chopped off by Darth Vader, so it’s probably a good thing Angleberger avoided them.

So is Origami Yoda real? Or is he a fake? Does Tommy make a fool of himself? Does Sara think he’s cute too? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Kelly Lynn Thomas is a writer obsessed with storytelling, tea, and Star Wars. Her day job is newspaper editor, but fiction and travel writing are her first loves. Read more at http://kellylynnthomas.com.

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