Monday, February 21, 2011

Minding the Middle Monday Review
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Monday, February 21, 2011
In the Middle Monday is where I review books written for the middle school audience.

In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.(Publisher's summary from Goodreads)

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger recently won the Cybils 2010 Award for Middle School  Fiction. Being a middle school teacher, naturally I was interested in reading the book that made it through several rounds of judging to win this prestigious award. While I  enjoyed the book, I must admit I am a little baffled at how the book manages to represent  the best in 2010 middle school fiction.

Far from being an expert of middle school literature, one thing I have noticed in my 17 years of teaching middle school reading is that many middle school authors tend to forget that middle school starts in sixth grade (ages 10-11) and ends in eighth (ages 13-14). There is a huge disparity between sixth and eighth graders’ reading tastes, so I do understand that writing a book that appeals to all three grades is a difficult job. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda fits quite well in sixth grade and I believe it would appeal to fourth and fifth graders (elementary) too. I also think that  a certain amount of seventh graders, particularly the reluctant readers, will embrace the humor, short chapters, and funny illustrations. I did, however, have a difficult time seeing how this book won over a Newberry winner (Moon Over Manifest) or several other books nominated in the middle school category that would have had a wider appeal to all three grade levels.

Still if you have a kid who loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid, then I am certain that Angelberger’s book will be a hit. The maturity level of the characters accurately represent most sixth grade boys and the conflicts while mostly superficial do have some lessons to impart especially about fitting in, or in Dwight’s case how not fitting in is okay too. While I do not see many middle school girls gravitating to this book, those who do will easily recognize character traits and antics of sixth grade boys they go to school with and enjoy the mostly guy humor therein.  I am just not convinced that this is the best example of  2010 middle grade fiction.

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