On August 10, 2012, author Tom Angleberger loped into the bbgb bookstore on the corner of Kensington and Belmont Avenues in the fan. A wiry man wearing a plaid camp shirt over an R2-D2 t-shirt, Angleberger was unassuming in appearance and words.
“I haven’t got much to say, frankly. I’m mostly just about Star Wars and origami,” he claimed.
Tom Angleberger is the author of seven books for the 10 to 14-year-old crowd. He’s best known for his Origami Yoda series in which sixth-grader Tommy and his friends are trying to figure out how to manage the ups and downs of middle school, turning to a paper finger puppet for advice. The puppet, invented and voiced by their odd friend Dwight, is Origami Yoda. The puppet’s advice always turns out to be really good, but Dwight seems so clueless. Could it be that Origami Yoda really does possess the power of the force?
“The reason that I write about a kid who is the weirdest kid at his school is because I was the weirdest kid at MY school,” Angleberger explained to his audience. “I was the second shortest and the most weirdest, so it’s easy for me to write about him. One of the real benefits is there’s no research, right? I already know! I already know what it’s like to be the weirdo. It’s easy! So the book is not exactly my biography, but a lot of it’s true, and Dwight and I do have an understanding with each other.
“But Dwight does do something that’s even weirder than anything I did,” he continued. “Well, maybe not weirder than anything I did, but it makes a better story than anything I did. Dwight makes something and brings it to school …”
And the children shouted excitedly, “Origami Yoda!”
“Right!” exclaimed Angleberger.
In a one-on-one interview, Angleberger gave more insight into the thing that set him apart in school: Asperger’s syndrome.
“My brain is not exactly wired properly and one of the side effects is the outpouring of words,” he related. “... But when I’m sitting in front of my computer and the words pour out into new chapters of Origami Yoda, at those moments it seems like that’s what my brain was supposed to be doing.”
It is a lucky man who can parlay his two great childhood passions into an actual career. Angleberger seemed astonished and grateful.
“The crazy, crazy thing is the stuff that that only isolated me when I was in school, like being a big fan of Star Wars, to the point of annoying everybody with how big a fan I was, and origami, to the point where I was folding instead of whatever else you’re supposed to do at school – these two things which were maybe my weakness back then, now that’s what I’ve got to offer,” he emphasized. “And the crazy thing is when those two things came together, instead of being weaknesses they turned into this huge thing that changed my life. Star Wars Origami, I mean, has totally changed my life.”
The series began with "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" (Abrams, 2010), and was followed by "Darth Paper Strikes Back" (2011). Angleberger was in Richmond to autograph copies of his books and to celebrate the launch of the third Origami Yoda book, "The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee" (2012).
Each story is written as an investigative case file compiled by Tommy, with contributions, doodles and commentary from his classmates. It’s impossible to read a few chapters without feeling like you are also part of the class. The stories are truly that much fun. They’re stooky!
Best of all, Angleberger’s writing talent is not limited to this self-made genre; he has written several other creative works which include neither folded paper nor characters from a galaxy far, far away.
There’s the marvelous story of "Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset" (Abrams, 2011). Its absurdly long title is a good indication of what to expect from this gleefully kooky story. With a flair for wordplay and an expressive vocabulary, our friendly Victorian narrator asserts his opinions with such genteel humor that he is instantly the favorite character in spite of his not actually appearing in the story.
The main character is an earnest yet pathetic kitchen boy called Horton Halfpott who is polite and mannerly even while being beaten about the head with a wooden spoon. He and the other employees of Smugwick Manor bear witness to many Unprecedented Marvels beginning one fateful day when M’Lady Luggertuck unconsciously unleashes the Loosening.
"Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (And Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election From a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind" (Amulet, 2012) tells what happens when a seventh-grade boy in possession of an expensive disguise attempts to take control of the United States. The fate of the country rests in the hands of his best friend Lenny and television’s favorite teen cowgirl, Jodie O’Rodeo. This book is a campy encounter of the absurd kind. The happenings in Hairsprinkle are preposterous and playful. This book may go a long way in reviving the market for false mustaches.
Tom Angleberger’s popularity is spreading. Once you’ve seen him in action at a book signing, you know why. This month he will cross the Atlantic to London, taking with him bits of green paper to teach more youngsters how to fold their very own Origami Yodas.
Angleberger speculated, “If you went back and asked the other people I was in the sixth grade with and you said, ‘Do you think what he’s doing now is going to turn out to be good?’ you know, they’d be like, ‘No way, he’s gotta grow out of it!’ And I didn’t.”
Read the interview with Tom Angleberger. It's listed in the October 2012 posts on this site.