Monday, September 26, 2011

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

By the title of the book, you can probably guess the featured Star Wars character in Tom Angleberger’s sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. If not (and because I think it’s awesome) here’s a clue. Cue the music!

On the first day of seventh grade, Harvey, the one person who maintains a deep-seeded, Dark Side hatred of Dwight’s Origami Yoda, arrives at school and announces, “Sorry, this isn’t the year for Paperwad Yoda.” Then as he sings “Bom bom bom bom-ba-bomb bom-ba-bomb” (see movie, above), he pulls out an origami Darth Vader from his pocket.

Darth Paper challenges Origami Yoda at every turn during the first month of school. But things take a turn for the worse when Origami Yoda says, “Zero hour comes. Prepare to meet your doom!” to a seventh grade girl. Dwight, of course, insists he didn’t say it. Origami Yoda did.

Unfortunately, those words make their way to the principal, and before the end of the day, Dwight is kicked out of school. On his way out of the building Dwight meets Tommy and holds up Origami Yoda who says, “The truth for the school board you must write. Another case file is needed.” So Tommy once again compiles stories and artifacts into a case file, this time meant to prove Dwight and Origami Yoda haven’t gone over to the Dark Side and to get them back into school.

Readers (and the school board) learn how Origami Yoda helped Kellen deal with an annoying brat at the skate park over the summer. They learn about Origami Yoda’s perfect non-video game solution to the stricter computer policy in the library. My favorite bit of wisdom comes when the class is supposed to sell cans of popcorn as a fundraiser. “Sell nothing you must,” says Origami Yoda. When Quavando offers to sell his grandmother nothing for $5 - half the price of a $10 tin of popcorn - she’s so happy to not get stuck with crappy popcorn that she buys $25 worth of nothing!

After the evidence is presented and the case file ends, Tommy and Kellen explain the rest of the story, including what happens at the school board meeting. Of course I’m not giving away the ending, but I will say the final chapter of Darth Paper Strikes Back is titled “A New Hope” and that Origami Yoda’s last quote, to delight of readers, is:

“The End... …This is not!”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Imagine a typical middle school. It’s morning, before classes, in the library. Sixth graders congregate to finish homework and play on computers, but mostly they gather to talk. Boys tables, girls tables. Okay, now find the tables with the kids that don’t really fit any typical middle school stereotypes. Got it?

Now add an Origami Yoda, perched atop the index finger of one of the boys, offering sage advice to those who seek the wisdom of a Jedi master.

Yeah, I know. I had you until that last part. But trust me. It works.

Origami Yoda makes his first appearance at the April PTA Fun Night school dance when his advice, “Rush in fools do,” apparently saves Tommy from mortal embarrassment. (It involves a girl.) Origami Yoda’s next words of wisdom, “All of pants you must wet,” help Kellen make it to class on time without looking like he has an unfortunate stain on his khakis.

And that’s only the beginning. Origami Yoda also offers the students of McQuarrie Middle School the following tidbits:
  • “Let go of your feelings. Hate and revenge to the dark side only lead.” 
  • “The Twist you must learn.” 
  • “Stinks movie does.” 
  • “Mulked learn to spell you must. Forget not the T.”
There’s more, all of them equally cryptic yet amazingly accurate. And Tommy, Kellen, Lance, Mike, Quavando (but not Kellen) and even some of the girls are eager to believe in Origami Yoda’s power. Except for one thing. Origami Yoda sits on Dwight’s finger, and his advice comes from Dwight’s mouth, albeit in a mediocre impression of Yoda’s actual voice.

Dwight is the guy who wipes up juice spills at the PTA Fun Night with his shirt - while he’s wearing it. He gets stuck in the P.E. closet and blames squirrels, wears the same shirt for a month, and once wore a cape and insisted everyone call him Captain Dwight. As Tommy, the boy compiling everyone’s Origami Yoda stories, says, 
“You can never decide if [Dwight] does these things to be funny or if he’s just totally nuts. Nobody ever laughs WITH him, so how can he think he’s funny? But if he’s totally nuts, then how come he can have a normal conversation some days or fold origami or get straight A’s in math (but nothing else)?”
Author Tom Angleberger begins The Strange Case of Origami Yoda with a question: “Is Origami Yoda real?” Tommy and the rest of the friends each share their encounters as part of this case file and leave the final decision to the reader. Even Tommy isn’t completely convinced at the end, despite what may seem to be overwhelming evidence. You’ll have to make up your own mind, but let Origami Yoda’s words help.

“The Force - always may it be with you.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Boy and the Bed of a Pickup

Not our truck and not our dirt, but you get the picture.
When I was a kid, riding in the back of a pickup truck was, if not a regular occurrence, certainly not out of the ordinary. Not so any longer. Maybe it's because there's no anchor for a car seat and no airbags back there. Not to make light of automotive safety, here's my latest newspaper column. It combines a job to be done, a boy, his imagination, and the back of the truck. Here's a link to the newspaper site, and thanks for stopping by.

We recently removed several old tree stumps from our backyard. Eleven holes to fill, level, and seed, and the toil fell to my two hands. Unless I could wrangle up some family help.

Needing to haul black dirt, I commandeered Grandpa’s pickup, and the truck became my prime negotiating tool. I approached the boy. “Want to help me fill the stump holes? Haul some black dirt? Plant some grass seed?”

No response.

“We’re taking Papa’s new truck.”

That got his attention.

“Can I ride in the back?”

“Not on the road, but you’ll need to be back there to help shovel.”

“Okay. I’m in.”

Having doubled my labor force, I grabbed a second shovel and we headed to the landfill for fresh compost. Upon arrival, and before my foot even hit the ground, I heard a familiar query.

“Can I get in the back of the truck?”

“We need to shovel the dirt into the truck, and the dirt is down here.”

So we shoveled compost. It worked like this: I’d shovel from one side, he’d dig holes on the other. “You’re supposed to put the dirt into the back of the truck, Buddy.”

“Yeah, I know. But, see, I’m trying to make the pile collapse.”

“Excuse me?”

“Collapse. See, if I dig under here, then it’ll be cool ‘cause everything up there will collapse down here!”

“But WE’RE down here. You want us to get buried?”

“Dad. Seriously?”

I kept shoveling. He kept digging, unconcerned that his ongoing efforts brought us steadily closer to premature burial. Shovel-full after shovel-full, and to be clear, these were my shovel-fulls, the bed of the truck filled. And the pile never collapsed.

“Can I ride in the back of the truck now?”

“Sorry, bud. Not on the highway.” So he dragged himself back to the front for the trip home.

As I prepared to back into the driveway, around the garage, and to the soon-to-be-filled holes, the boy interrupted with a sudden revelation. “Hey, I have an idea. How about you drop me off in the driveway, and I’ll ride in the back?” he asked.

“How about I drop you off, you grab two rakes and the tamper, put them in, and then ride in the back?” I suggested.

“ about I just ride in back?”

So I got the rakes and the tamper and he, finally, climbed on the compost pile in the back of the truck.

Looking over the tailgate, using unique and animated hand motions, he directed me to each hole. His third base coach impression did get me into position, but it proved to be the last - and only - time his hands aided in the day’s work.

The bed of the truck became his play land, his battle ground, his junkyard. He slid down the pile. He threw dirt-clod bombs. He searched for nails, plastic, and other non-compostable treasures. I tried to teach him the meaning of “decomposed organic matter,” but rot and decay are no match for a nine-year-old’s imagination.

Eventually, the holes were filled, the grass seed was sown, and the job was completed.

One day his willingness to be present will transform into a willingness to participate. Until then I’m happy to let his imagination run unrestrained.

But he still can’t ride in the back of the truck.