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In spring 2010, Amulet Books published Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, introducing Dwight, a seemingly clueless sixth grader who communicates with peers through the prescient voice of his origami Yoda finger puppet. The force – and middle-grade readers – were clearly with the novel’s meshing of Star Wars and origami themes: four books followed in the series, which now has more than 5.3 million copies in print. In August, Amulet will release the sixth and final novel, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, whose title and cover are revealed here for the first time.
The Origami Yoda books grew out of Angleberger’s own childhood love of Star Wars and origami, and he was surprised and pleased to discover that so many kids share his fondness for both. “I had no idea that this concept would take off, and it is beyond gratifying,” he said. “I’ve been amazed at how many kids love origami, and they have made some incredible things. We put up 10 to 20 new pieces of their origami on the series’ website every single day. And some kids have filmed themselves with their origami creations and put movies on YouTube. I’m very proud of them – it’s the readers who energize and inspire me.”
Susan Van Metre, Amulet senior v-p and publisher, has witnessed fans’ wild enthusiasm for Origami Yoda in person. She recalled accompanying Angleberger on a 2012 visit to Tobias Elementary School in Kyle, Tex., that ended with hundreds of kids storming the author. “Tom had taught them to fold origami Yoda finger puppets, and when he finished his presentation, they rushed the auditorium stage, waving their puppets, and Tom literally disappeared from sight in a sea of Yodas! That’s one of my favorite memories of the ride we’ve been on with this series.”
Van Metre observed that one element in the Origami Yoda series that is “very special” to her, and has resonated with kids, is Angleberger’s inclusion of a diverse cast of young characters. “The kids in the books come from different economic backgrounds, and that is something you don’t often find in humorous children’s books,” she said. “I grew up in a similar small-town culture, and see my own childhood reflected in Tom’s books. He handles the issue of diversity in the lightest possible way, and with a very deft touch.”
This component of the series was very important to Angleberger from the start. “I wanted to connect with as many kids as possible,” he explained. “There aren’t enough minority characters in children’s literature, and I wanted my books to have a very diverse group of kids – not just racially, but also socio-economically. And I wanted to include a range of characters, from nerds to cheerleaders, and show what they have in common.”
An Ending, New Beginnings
Angleberger explained that he decided to end his series with Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus for several reasons, yet he left the door open a crack for a revisit to Dwight and the other fictional students at McQuarrie Middle School. “I’ve wrestled for a long time about how far I wanted to go, but this sixth book feels like a very natural conclusion,” he said. “I felt this is a good time to stop and catch my breath. Also, I’m running out of ideas, and maybe after new Star Wars movies come out with brand new characters, other ideas might become apparent to me for a new generation of books. My characters, and especially Dwight, are very important to me – we’ve come a long way together. It would be sad for me to think this is the end, so I’ll take a break and see what happens.”
Origami Yoda may be on the back burner, but Angleberger has several other projects percolating. In 2015, Amulet will release the debut book in what he described as “a really gonzo, over-the-top mystery series.” These chapter books will be illustrated by Cece Bell, Angleberger’s wife, whose graphic novel, El Deafo, is due from Amulet in September. “I’m challenging my wife to make all these crazy drawings for the new series, and I know she’ll come through,” Angleberger said. “She’s unstoppable.”
Though the publisher is keeping the mystery series’ title and storyline under wraps, Van Metre did describe it to PW as “a very quirky, younger chapter book series with an unusual – and green – protagonist.”
But fans don’t have to wait until next year to read fresh Angleberger fare. In May, Amulet will publish The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain!, the first book in a new middle-grade series. (In 2007, Dial published an earlier, out-of-print version of this novel, originally titled The Qwickpick Adventure Society and written under the pen name of Sam Riddleburger.) Told through journal entries, doodles, and handwritten notes, the story centers on three bored kids who sneak into a soon-to-close sewage treatment plant to see the sludge fountain before it disappears. “This book is very close to my heart, and to have Amulet pump new life into it – and launch a series – is a great moment for me,” said the author.
Like Angleberger, who described his years writing and promoting Origami Yoda “an incredible experience,” Van Metre expressed mixed emotions about wrapping up the series. Though she said that Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, which will have a one-million copy first printing, “brings the story arc to a perfect conclusion,” she continued, “I have to say I’m really nostalgic. It’s been a wonderful journey with Tom and our team here. One can’t help but hope that Origami Yoda has more work to do out there.”
Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger. Abrams/Amulet, $13.95 Aug. ISBN 978-1-4197-0933-3