Confession: I am not a Star Wars fan. I remember watching the original movies as a kid, and yeah, they were okay. But I don’t think I really got it. I remember actually sleeping through one of the prequels that came out later that I tried to watch with Steady Eddie, who is a fan. Still, though, my lack of passion for all things Jedi didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger too much. The second book in the Origami Yoda series, Darth Paper Strikes Back is a middle grade fiction novel that is a school story, a genre I’ve always enjoyed (because hey–I liked school as a teenager, if not as a middle schooler!) Although most school stories are heavy on the drama and light on the monotony of school, I think this one mostly gets it right. Of course, it’s not actually about learning, except for the social and relational aspects of learning. It’s the story of a gaggle of middle school kids, boys and girls, who are working to get their friend Dwight, creator of the Origami Yoda, to not be sent to detention school for verbally threatening another student. If that sounds ominous, it’s really not, because it all revolves around Dwight’s origami finger-puppet Yoda. Yeah. Dwight has a lot of knowledge and insight to share–about people and how to treat them, about the way the world works–but he lacks the social and communication skills to express himself, so he does it through Origami Yoda. Okay. I can really see a smart-but-socially-inept middle school boy doing this. The thing that I like about this book is that it is so very believable, as unbelievable as it might sound. I’ve spent a little bit of time with middle schoolers, and I can buy that something like this really might happen. I really like that Angleberger paints the weird, misunderstood kids as nice people, and even the obnoxious know-it-all kid has a good side. The story is written from multiple perspectives as a case file that one student, Tommy, is building for Dwight. The text is done in different fonts, depending upon who is doing the explaining, with line illustrations of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper (his nemesis created by the aforementioned obnoxious kid), and the kids in the story. Also included are “handwritten” commentaries by the bad guy and Tommy. This new-ish trend in book publishing is interesting to me–that so often now books are more interactive, with varying fonts and styles and illustrations scattered throughout the text. I also have to say that at the end of the story, the middle school principal’s emphasis on the Standards of Learning test and its importance made the homeschooling mama in me give a wry laugh and nod my head in recognition. Standardized tests are emphasized that much in many states, mine included, to the detriment of almost all else, including students’ individual differences and abilities.
Darth Paper Strikes Back was shortlisted for this year’s Cybils in the middle grade fiction category. I’ve only read one of the other nominees so far–The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson–so I’m reserving judgment. I don’t typically think of a series book like Darth Paper as a potential award winner since much of its strength (probably?) comes from the book that came before it, but I actually think this one more-or-less can stand on its own. I haven’t read the first book, The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda, but I was able to pick up this one with little problem. There’s a lot of insight in this little story, plus it’s just quirky and fun with a lot of kid appeal. I give it a Highly Recommended. (Amulet Books, 2011)
Related links and reviews elsewhere:
- This teacher had a Darth Paper party (He also named it an Awesome 2011 Middle Grade Novel and wrote the little blurb on the Cybils shortlist page.)