The Force is strong with this one. On Tuesday, August 7, the third book in Tom Angleberger’s middle-grade Origami Yoda series, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee (Abrams/Amulet), went on sale with a 500,000-copy first printing, and the author marked the occasion with a trio of events in the New York City area, before heading out on tour. “I couldn’t believe how many kids showed up at the first event,” says Angleberger, who saw more than 150 kids turn out for his appearances at Barnes & Noble bookstores in Princeton, N.J., and Carle Place, N.Y. “When I first started out, I had to explain who Origami Yoda was. Now kids know Origami Yoda and Darth Paper, and they’re primed to hear about Chewbacca – it’s just fantastic.” Another bonus about having the new book feature the (famously incomprehensible) wookiee from the Star Wars films: “I get to ask kids to do their Chewbacca impressions.”
The Origami Yoda books are narrated by a group of Star Wars–loving middle-school students, who seek the wisdom of origami finger puppets in their daily lives. Those lives have gotten more complicated as the series has developed: Dwight, the eccentric and none-too-popular kid who got the ball rolling with his Yoda finger puppet in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (2010), is in exile at a reform school in Fortune Wookiee, following the events of Darth Paper Strikes Back. The end of the new book points to a bigger battle still to come, one that appears likely to involve such timely school topics as standardized testing and reduced funding for the arts. In addition to working on the next Origami Yoda book, Angleberger is contributing a science fiction story to an upcoming installment of Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read series, and next spring will see the release of Cranky Doodle (Clarion), a picture-book collaboration between Angleberger and his wife, author/illustrator Cece Bell. Bell also created the cover illustration for Fortune Wookiee.
Although the Origami Yoda books have been successful, Angleberger admits that the first two books he ever wrote – The Qwikpick Adventure Society (Dial, 2007) and Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run (Dial, 2009), both published under the pseudonym Sam Riddleburger – “were not huge hits.” So when it came to the Origami Yoda series, he had decided, “I’m not going to try to sell books to people—I’m going to try to teach as many people as I can find how to fold Origami Yoda.” In fact, Angleberger estimates that he’s taught thousands of people how to fold Origami Yoda at book events in the past few years (the “emergency” version, for when Yoda’s wisdom is direly needed, requires only five folds). Needless to say, he’s sold some books, too: there are currently three million copies of the Origami Yoda titles in print.
Of course, having Star Wars as a central component of the books doesn’t hurt from a sales standpoint. As the author puts it, “Almost everybody knows Star Wars.” Angleberger says that kids often tell him they watch the films with their parents, and the Star Wars empire has grown mightily since the original films were released, including such recent spinoffs as Lego Star Wars and the Clone Wars TV series. Still, he says, “It’s not like I sat down and thought, ‘What’s a license I could get and write about?’ It’s a very real thing because of my love of Star Wars and my love of origami.” Angleberger had been creating origami Star Wars characters for his own enjoyment before he had the idea to turn them into books (the Star Wars references in the series have been authorized by George Lucas’s Lucasfilm).
In addition to Angleberger’s August tour, which is taking him to bookstores in Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia (where he lives with Bell), he also plans to attend the Star Wars Celebration convention in Orlando later this month, an event that makes it unmistakably clear what a phenomenon Star Wars continues to be, decades after 1977’s A New Hope. “Everybody has their own ways of appreciating Star Wars,” says the author. “For one guy, it’s building a life-size R2-D2 that works. For someone else, it’s dressing up as a stormtrooper. And for someone else, it’s collecting Star Wars Christmas ornaments. How much more different could you get? Yet we’re all hooked into the same thing, and we can all talk to each other about it.”
The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger. Abrams/Amulet, $12.95, Aug. ISBN 978-1-4197-0392-8