Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hanukkah Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

So now I come to the last in a troika of books that are related in at least my mind:  Mockingbird, Out of My Mind, and now The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.  Origami Yoda is another testament to not judging a book by its cover, particularly in the context of middle schoolers and the tweens who is "different" from their peers.  However, Origami Yoda presents a much more common situation, and handles the entire question with humor as well as insight.  Origami Yoda is sort of the YA equivalent to watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas," while reading the other two are much more (good) tear-jerkers, like a high-quality "Hallmark Hall of Fame" Christmas special.

The square peg in this book is Dwight, the weird kid that the other sixth graders all consider to be a "loser."  Dwight is such a dweeb that one day he shows up at school with a paper puppet on his finger--an Origami version of Yoda from Star Wars--and starts spouting unsolicited advice.  What a loser, right?  Except the funny thing is....Origami Yoda's pronouncements have a way of coming true.  So what is going on?  Could the force really be with a folded up piece of paper?  Or is it Dwight?  Does he have hidden talents that no one could have ever expected?

One thing that I really liked about this book (besides the message, of course) is that it is written as a series of diary entries.  Dwight's classmates really want to figure out if Origami Yoda is the real deal or not, so they agree to share their experiences with his advice.  So each chapter is written by a different student--sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy.  Some of them are Team Yoda, some of them think it is all a ruse, and at least one or two are beginning to appreciate some of Dwight's differences.   And as each entry unfolds, the reader gets to see that even the "coolest" kids in school are grappling with self-image and relationship issues, especially in that most dangerous of topics--a burgeoning interest in the opposite sex.   I think Angleberger kind of captures that sixth-grade voice as well as an adult can, and includes in his chapter student-like drawing and comments or insults by other classmates as they read the entry of each chapter that helps make it even more authentic.

All in all, I think this is a VERY imaginative way to approach this topic, and Angleberger has done a fabulous job in making this topic very accessible to his target audience--ESPECIALLY to boys, who (not to be sexist or anything) might be less open to reading a heavier book on this topic, such as Mockingbird or Out of My Mind.  For example, while he finished both the others, he didn't really enjoy them.  But he loved The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and rates it as one of his favorite books of the year.  And I think he got the theme of non-judgment and accepting the differences of others (which is a big value for us, both as a family and in the homeschooling and spiritual communities to which we belong) better from The Strange Case of Origami Yoda than he did from the other two.

Again, I don't know how the Newbery Committee considers these various factors.  How do you compare books that cover similar themes in such different ways?  All I can say is the The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is one of my favorite YA books of the year, and would definitely have a place on my personal top seven list for 2010 (I believe that is the official number Newbery members recommend).

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