There have been many times during my twelve-year-old son’s life that we have tried to force science fiction, and especially Star Wars on him. While he has grinned and born many of these objects (sheets, clocks) and experiences (movie marathons), he has never really clicked with any of it. I should not have been surprised, then, when I picked up Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda thinking it would help nudge him to read more, that he didn’t even finish it, let alone read the next books in the series, Darth Paper Strikes Back and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie (and now four more after that).
I mean, sounds like a cute idea, right? Chapter books meant for more reluctant readers, complete with little sketches, presented as the case files of a middle school-er trying to figure out if the strange kid’s origami Yoda has the power of the Force behind his sometimes bizarre advice. Each chapter is written from one of the kids’ perspectives and is illustrated by one friend and is given a dissenting opinion by another. It’s really about the nerds finding love and maturing, and some of the characters are rather endearing for such sparse interaction with them. I also enjoyed how the main character blunders through his own changes and awakenings without ever making it obvious or heavy. (His issues include being bold, being kind, and choosing the right kind of friends.)
This is not the world’s best book, not that anyone claimed that it was. It is very, very short and so it can’t develop a tremendous amount. It seems to have the opposite idea from Harry Potter as to how to get kids to read. Less words is better. And a few more drawings. Speaking of which, I did not enjoy the illustrations. I know that they were supposed to be drawn by a middle school-er goofing around, but they were messy and poor, which it turns out I don’t like any better than drawings supposedly done by kids that are clearly done by adults. I also would have preferred if this book were written as a conventional novel, and not in epistolary form. I understand that the whole shtick is that it’s a notebook of a middle school-er, but I think the idea of an advice-giving origami Yoda and the characters themselves is enough to carry this story without the added gimmicks. (Might be more difficult to convince the kids they don’t need the gimmicks.)
Then again, I’m not a middle school boy. I know my middle school boy wasn’t buying it, but plenty of kids have. I do like the idea, and certainly if your kid is a reluctant reader in to sci-fi (not that this book is sci-fi. It’s not) and/or Star Wars or enjoys books in the vein of Captain Underpants, Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Dog Man, then this would be a good place to go. And, unlike many of these types of books, Origami Yoda does have a heart.