At TLA this year I picked up a book that would quickly become one of my favorite middle grades of the year. In fact, I loved it so much, I passed it around to my friends, regardless of age. My friend’s 8 year old son loved it. My BFF’s fiance, in his mid twenties loved it. My author friends loved it. Some of us are Star Wars nuts, and some, like me, can’t quote a line. But one thing was for certain: this book is a winner. Following 6th grader Harvey as he attempts to figure out whether class weirdo, Dwight’s, origami Yoda finger puppet is “real” — meaning, does it really have the power to give good advice? — THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA is both delightful and charming, but it is also a heartfelt and poignant account of middle school mayhem. I am so excited to have author Tom Angleberger here on the blog today to answer some of my burning questions about ORIGAMI YODA, Dwight, Star Wars, and everything in between.
E. Kristin Anderson: First of all, where on earth did THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA come from? It’s such a delightfully bizarre book!
Tom Angleberger: Well, as you may know I did not invent the concept of a Yoda made by folding paper. But I did make my own design of one and when I was done I discovered that it worked as a finger puppet.
From there, the story just unfolded on its own.
Frighteningly, I almost used the idea for a short story that would have gone into an obscure anthology and never have been heard from again. But that story — Origami Yoda & The Homerun — became part of the book.
EKA: I loved ORIGAMI YODA’s multiple characters, and the many “accounts” they came up with for the case file. What made you approach this story from this angle?
TA: Well, I started with that one Homerun story. And just started writing more stories from different kids. Then the story arc grew out of those stories.
Interestingly, the first editor to read the book wanted me to remove all the different narrators. But I thought it worked and luckily the second editor to see it did, too.
EKA: Did you know any kids when you were growing up that inspired your characters for ORIGAMI YODA?
TA: Absolutely! It’s all true!! (Well, not all. But a lot of it is true.)
EKA: I love how the kids all think it’s unbelievable that a kid like Dwight – the weird, wacky outcast – could possibly be giving good advice. And yet, there Dwight is, being awesome. Have you ever felt like Dwight?
TA: Yes, I am Dwight.
EKA: Have you ever doubted a “Dwight” in your life?
TA: Yes…I am also Harvey.
EKA: I have a sneaking suspicion that ORIGAMI YODA is really about Dwight. I could totally be wrong. Either way, what makes Dwight a special character to you?
TA: Yes, this is Dwight’s story. If you really want to get into it, Dwight has Aspergers, just like me. So does Harvey.
Each one has found a way of dealing with a world that they don‘t quite understand. Dwight’s way is very positive. Harvey’s is very negative. (Kind of like Yoda and Vader.)
In the sequel, they are really, really going to crash.
EKA: LucasFilm is notorious for keeping artsy types away from their licenses. How did you manage to get the okay from them to fly with ORIGAMI YODA?
TA: LucasFilm certainly hasn’t been notorious. They’ve been wonderful!!
Here’s how it happened: So the person in charge of licensing books takes the manuscript home to show her kid. Kid reads it and says, “Let him do it.” I am so grateful to that kid that I worked his name into the story.
EKA: Was your book tough to sell, because of its nicheyness? It seems like a lot of folks would be worried about mixing Star Wars with a brand new story.
TA: Origami + Yoda + middle school chaos = something for everybody.
EKA: I’m not a Star Wars fanatic, but ORIGAMI YODA made me laugh and smile. I loved it! Did you set out to write a book that would appeal to the readers, like me, who had only seen Star Wars once, if at all? Or was this something that you had to work at?
TA: Actually my concern was to make sure there was enough Star Wars stuff to satisfy Star Wars fans who read it. There will be a little more Star Wars in the sequel, but I think it fits in so naturally that non-fans won’t mind it.
EKA: How many origami Yodas have you made in real life? Do you use multiple patterns?
TA: Way, way over 1,000. And I’ve taught 1,000s of people how to make them, too. Yes, I have 3 patterns, plus the Yoda that’s on the cover — for which there is no pattern! He’s one of a kind.
EKA: The illustrations in your book are so fun and quirky. Did you always know your book would be illustrated? Or did this idea come along later?
TA: Thanks! Actually, at one time I was planning to use photos. Photographic evidence for the casefile, similar to what I did in my first book, THE QWIKPICK ADVENTURE SOCIETY.
Then I decided to draw the chapter headers, but it was my editor’s idea to doodle in the margins. I was very hesitant about that, but it really brought Kellen’s character to life. It’s another voice and he became one of my favorite voices.
EKA: You do your own illustrations, so I’m wondering how you balance your time with writing and illustrating. If it were me, I’d be constantly distracted by doodling my characters in various silly poses!
TA: I generally write first and draw later. My next book, HORTON HALFPOTT, has 50+ pen and ink drawings. Getting those done turned out to be some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Certainly a lot harder than writing the book.
EKA: I love all the pictures on your blog of kids with their origami Star Wars puppets. What has touring with this book been like? I’m guessing you’ve had lots of fun!
TA: It is so much fun!! Teaching a big crowd to fold Yoda is so great! And visiting schools is definitely one of the highpoints to this job!
EKA: I just read that you are working on an ORIGAMI YODA sequel, and that it is shrouded in secrecy! Drat! Is there anything you CAN tell us about this next book?
TA: Sure — and I haven’t mentioned this publicly before — Dwight is finally going to explain everything … and it will blow your mind! (I hope!) [EKA's note: Pssst, check out the poll on the Origami Yoda blog, to predict what the new Star Wars origami will be in the sequel!]
EKA: You also have another book that you wrote and illustrated, HORTON HALFPOTT: OR, THE FIENDISH MYSTERY OF SMUGWICK MANOR; OR, THE LOOSENING OF M’LADY LUGGERTUCK’S CORSET, coming out from Amulet this spring. What can we expect from HORTON? And what’s with the epically long title?
TA: This book is like the silliest Victorian novel ever written. And you know how those Victorians liked to have a few extra titles on their books.
Here’s the opening:
There are so many exciting things in this book—a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates—that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear.
But the underwear, you see, is the reason that all those Unprecedented Marvels happened…
EKA: For those readers out there who love books like yours with tons of interior illustrations, have you read anything lately that you’d recommend?
TA: Have you seen THE POPULARITY PAPERS? Oh yeah!
EKA: What are you working on now? Or is it top secret?
TA: My wife, author/illustrator Cece Bell, and I have been trying to do a book together for years. But our ideas have always been rejected. But, we’ve got a wild one now and it just might be the one that we finally pull off!
Many, many thanks to the wonderful Tom Angleberger! If you haven’t already picked it up, hurry out and find yourself a copy of THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA. In the mean time, check out this sweet YouTube tutorial from Abrams Books and Tom Angleberger: