Review posted January 18, 2011
Amulet Books, New York, 2010. 154 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #8 Children's Fiction
Last night, a friend mentioned that her third grade son is a reluctant reader and is daunted by the thick books some of his classmates are reading. Another friend suggested Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which the mom said her son has, ready to read. That's when I recommended The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in that it's set in a middle school, has lots of cartoon drawings to accompany it, is hilarious, and deals with the difficulties of being a middle school student. I liked the Yoda book better, though, and the humor seemed less crass and genuinely funny.
For example, how's this for a nightmare assembly that the kids have to go to: "Mr. Good Clean Fun and Soapy the Monkey present: 'Feeling Good About Our Smells.'" Seeing the poster of that event simply makes me laugh.
Tommy starts the narration in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and other classmates contribute their version of the events that happened, the advice yoda gave them, and how it turned out. Here's how Tommy begins:
The big question: Is Origami Yoda real?
Well, of course he's real. I mean, he's a real finger puppet made out of a real piece of paper.
But I mean: Is he REAL? Does he really know things? Can he see the future? Does he use the Force?
Or is he just a hoax that fooled a whole bunch of us at McQuarrie Middle School?
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! I don't want to get into all that yet, so for now let's just say it's about this really cool girl, Sara, and whether or not I should risk making a fool of myself for her.
Origami Yoda says to do it, but if he's wrong . . . total humiliation.
So I've got to know if he's real. I need solid answers. I need scientific evidence. That's why I went around and asked everybody who got help from Origami Yoda to tell their stories. Then I put all the stories together in this case file.
Origami Yoda's been giving advice to the students at McQuarrie Middle School. When they follow the advice, things work out beautifully. When they don't, things go wrong. But there's something very strange about that, in the person of Dwight:
Dwight is the guy who carries Origami Yoda around on his finger.
The strangest thing about Origami Yoda is that he is so wise even though Dwight is a total loser.
I'm not saying that as an insult. It's just a fact. Dwight never seems to do anything right. Always in trouble. Always getting harrassed by other kids. Always picking his nose. Always finding a way to "ruin it for everyone," as the teachers say.
If he would just listen to Origami Yoda's wisdom, like the rest of us, he would have it made.
I love the way the author presents what happened and lets us judge for ourselves whether Origami Yoda really has wisdom or not. Besides Tommy, who seems a bit gullible (but look at the facts!), he has Harvey write some commentary from a skeptic at the end of each chapter.
Reading the book as an adult, I'm afraid I was with the skeptics. But I love the way what happens is so ambiguous, you can easily understand the kids believing in Yoda. The situations where Tommy and his friends get Yoda's help are funny, but definitely realistic. And Tommy ends up finding out what it's like to really be a friend before it's all done, so the themes do give any reader food for thought.
I enjoyed this book so much, I made sure to buy my own copy at ALA Annual Conference and get it signed by the author. When I did, a young boy was ahead of me, showing Tom Angleberger the origami yoda he had folded. The author signed it, and I thought that was a great recommendation for the book. (There is a pattern in the back of the book to make your own Origami Yoda.)
A fun read for any age.