Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda centers on a seemingly clueless sixth grader who communicates with peers through the prescient voice of his origami Yoda finger puppet. In Darth Paper Strikes Back, a sequel due from Amulet next summer, another boy creates his own origami puppet based on a different, and decidedly darker, Star Wars character.
Named a best book of 2010 by the Boston Globe and included on the New York Public Library’s list of best children’s books of 2010, Origami Yoda has more than 550,000 copies in print (including trade and book-club and school book-fair editions) since its publication last March, and has earned the author an enthusiastic—and creative—base of fans. In fact, when Angleberger—an ardent Star Wars fan since seeing the original film in 1977—conducted a poll on his Web site to determine which Star Wars character readers most wanted to see featured in the sequel, more than 10,000 votes were cast. In truth, the author didn’t really need help selecting his next origami hero.
While promoting Origami Yoda, Angleberger heard many requests for a sequel. “It became clear to me that these kids wanted Darth Vader in the next book,” he says. “I actually had the plot of the second book pretty well in hand even before the first book came out, but something was missing—I needed the right title. And suddenly Darth Paper popped into my head—that was a great moment.” Though Angleberger admits that the online poll was worded so that there was “some wiggle room,” Darth Vader was the legitimate winner, garnering 53% of the votes. “No one could catch him!” the author says.
The origami theme of both novels grew out of another of his childhood preoccupations (in addition to Star Wars). “For a long time I was not very good at origami,” Angleberger confesses. “I’d fight and fuss and end up with a crumpled piece of paper and get mad.” Then five years ago, he found on the Internet a picture of an origami Yoda made by a Japanese origami master, which inspired him to try his hand at creating one. “I fiddled around with it, to get Yoda’s ears to stick out just right and get a kind of robe going,” he recalls. “When I was done, I realized Yoda needed to have a face drawn on him, which is not kosher in origami. And suddenly it came to me that this would make a great finger puppet and—pouf!—the idea for the first novel came to me.”
It was an idea that Susan Van Metre, senior v-p and publisher of Amulet Books, liked immediately when Angleberger sent her the manuscript. “I thought Tom was a creative genius, and I wanted to publish the novel,” she recalls. “But I knew we couldn’t publish a book about a Star Wars character without the permission of LucasFilms, and I also knew there was a very slim chance of getting that.”
Yet Van Metre was pleasantly surprised when she sent the manuscript to Carol Roeder, the film company’s director of publishing, who gave it to her son to read. He liked the book so much that permission was granted to use Yoda’s name. “I will always be grateful to that boy,” says the publisher. Angleberger is more than grateful. “That was bigger than big—in fact it was the greatest moment ever in my writing career,” he says.
Van Metre has high hopes for Darth Paper Strikes Back, which has a 250,000-copy first printing on order, andis thrilled with its predecessor’s success. “I absolutely adored The Strange Case of Origami Yoda from the start, yet I wondered if it was too quirky and would just find a few passionate fans,” she says. “But it connects so well with so many readers—kids who love Star Wars or are just being introduced to it. And it turns out that a lot of kids do origami.”
Sally Bulthuis, co-owner of Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, Mich., says that Origami Yoda has had strong sales in her store, and her staffers recently included the novel among their nominations for this year’s E.B. White Read Aloud Award. “We have been handselling the book as a fun read, and have had a very good response to it,” she says. “It has definitely caught on by word of mouth, especially with our teacher customers.” The bookseller says that, though Origami Yoda is selling to both boys and girls, “it is wonderful to find a book that you know will work for boys—almost anything works for girls.” Bulthuis was pleased to hear that a sequel is due out, noting, “We will definitely look forward to that.”
Angleberger (whose Dickensian spoof, Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset, will be published by Amulet in May), has witnessed first-hand Origami Yoda‘s dual thematic appeal to girls as well as boys. “Visiting schools, I’ve learned how many Star Wars fans there are out there, and the level of kids’ interest in origami is wild,” he remarks. “And on a Venn diagram, the overlap of Star Wars and origami fans would be huge. You wouldn’t believe some of the e-mails I get. I got one from a kid who told me that his New Year’s resolution was to fold 1,000 origami Yodas in 2011. I wrote back and said, ‘If you do that, I’m going to put your name in my next book.’ ” May the force be with that fan!
Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger. Abrams/Amulet, $12.95 ISBN 978-1-4197-0027