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Friday, August 31, 2012

'Origami Yoda' author brings The Force to the DBF

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 4:01 PM

  • Courtesy of Amulet Books
This Sunday, Sep. 2, I’ll be leading two Q&As at the Decatur Book Festival. First, I’ll be talking to Richard Kadrey, author of the occult noir series Sandman Slim, beginning at 1:15 p.m. Then at 3:45 p.m. I’ll chat with Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards about The Maltese Touch of Evil: Film Noir and Potential Criticism. It’ll be a tight fit afterwards if I want to catch bestselling, Virginia-based YA author Tom Angleberger, who speaks at the festival's Children’s Tent beginning at 4:30 p.m. The Decatur Book Festival's gain seems to be Dragon*Con's loss, if the fantasy convention’s guest list and the author’s on-line book tour schedule are any indication. Angelberger would fit right in at Nerdi Gras, given the way his YA Origami Yoda trilogy so cleverly finds the intersection of the Star Wars universe and Middle American middle school.

Like one of the Empire’s Star Destroyers looming onto the movie screen at the beginning of Star Wars, Angleberger’s series made a conspicuous debut with The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in 2010. The novel depicts a group of tweens’ befuddlement at the discovery that Dwight, their most nerdy and dysfunctional classmate, creates an origami version of the Jedi master and gives advice — in a terrible impression of Yoda’s voice — that nevertheless always pays off. Can Dwight really access The Force, or is something else going on?

In keeping with the original trilogy Star Wars trilogy, the books have three installments, with Origami Yoda followed up by last year’s Darth Paper Strikes Back and latest, hot-off-the-presses book, The Secret of the Fortune Wookie. Following the events of Darth Paper, Dwight was suspended from McQuarrie Middle School and enrolled in Tippett Academy. (The names are inside jokes referring to two of Star Wars’ visual effects designers.) A new source of advice emerges in the form of an old-fashioned paper “cootie catcher” decorated to resemble Chewbacca — hence the title.

Angleberger shares with Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s Jeffey Kinney a fresh, light-hearted approach to the awkward years of pre-adolescence along with generous jokes that will appeal to adults and tween readers alike. Like the previous books, the text takes the form of a “case file” assembled by several classmates, with the girls and boys giving evidence as to the Fortune Wookie’s powers. Generally, each chapter has a kid with a low-stakes problem — should a boy who takes ballet keep his dancing a secret? How can a girl get a photo with her secret crush? — and the Fortune Wookie provides the means to solve it.

With The Secret of the Fortune Wookie and its predecessors, the clever packaging almost upstages the witty writing. Every book contains instructions to make origami versions of various aliens, and the “cases” feature commentary, in different fonts, from overall narrator Tommy and the monumentally annoying skeptic Harvey. In addition, drawings in the margins resemble notebook doodles and combine Star Wars characters with mundane school situations.

Star Wars creator George Lucas gets plenty of knocks — many of them justified — for the subpar quality of the prequel trilogy and his constant after-the-fact tweaks of his films. Lucasfilm deserves a little credit for tolerating the creativity of its fans, who produce entertaining work ranging from the “Chad Vader” web series to the crowd-sourced remake Star Wars Uncut to Angleberger’s books. So laugh it up, fuzzballs.

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