By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
How excited do you think Tom Angleberger was when the new Star Wars trilogy was announced? Now he’s got at least another three movies to draw from for these Origami Yoda books! He gets to ride the Star Wars train for another decade!
I jest, of course. The Origami Yoda series could have been a big, uninspired money grab decorated with Star Wars characters. Instead, as the books progress Angleberger’s messages about the education system get more and more intriguing. In Jabba, we see a school administration failing to connect with both students and teachers. We even spend a little time looking at parent/child relationships. It’s a refreshing, fun look at the flaws in the American school system, coming from a rather unlikely source. After all, there is a paper Hutt on the cover.
The fourth book in the series sees Dwight, a seventh grader at McQuarrie Middle School renowned for his Origami Yoda finger puppet, return to the school and warn of an approaching crisis. Unfortunately, his predictions soon come true. In light of low standardized test scores, the school discontinues its elective programs, replacing them with the “FunTime” learning system, which in essence consists of a bunch of cartoons with bad singing. Now Dwight, Tommy, Kellen, Harvey, and the rest of the gang must form their own Rebel Alliance (complete with an entire cast of Star Wars puppets) to stand up to a school that has taken their creative outlets away from them. But can a small band of middle schoolers really make a difference?
“Edgy” isn’t a word I’d use to describe these books at all. But when you compare a small portion of the content in this book to that of its predecessors, that’s the word that somehow comes to mind. For instance, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to a student whose mother forbids him to socialize with Dwight and the others, as she’s a conservative Christian, and doesn’t want him worshipping false idols, i.e. a puppet that can “use the Force.” We also get a peek into Tommy’s home life, and see that his dad isn’t exactly the most attentive guy in the world. Again, not subject matter you’d expect to see here.
What impressed me the most about this book is how Angleberger played up the importance of having a cause worth fighting for. There are a couple of chapters in Jabba in which students want to gather their origami rebellion to fight against frivelous causes, and Angleberger stresses the importance of standing up against actual injustice, rather than things we don’t like. Hey, I never wanted to do sit-ups in gym either. But I never blew up a Death Star over it. As an adult, I appreciated the way he put things in context.
Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books have the look, and even the feel, of harmless Star Wars fun. And at the end of the day, I suppose that’s what they are to most young readers. But they manage to tackle a few real-world issues in a way that’s not overly confrontational, and despite how the plot starts, doesn’t necessarily paint school administrators as the bad guys. Adults may find some unexpected food for thought in these pages.
Front page image from amazon.com. Interior image from bookday.org.
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