Interview with Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger – and AN ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATION GIVEAWAY!!

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger has something for everyone.  While some readers will undoubtedly be attracted initially to the Star Wars elements, they will also find a story filled with humor, friendship and mystery.

At the crux of THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA (OY) is Tommy’s quest to discover why the origami Yoda at the end of Dwight’s finger is able to tell the future and offer sound advice when Dwight himself is so clueless.  Can the paper Yoda tap into the Force, or is Dwight pulling off the greatest hoax of all time?  And Tommy’s interest is not merely academic – he’d like to know if he should follow Yoda’s advice regarding, ahem, a certain girl.

OY festooned with lively illustrations throughout, in the chapter headings, the margins and the ends of the chapter. Sometimes, they even interact with the text. The illustrations are those of the author, Tom Angleberger, and here at Mixed-Up Files, we thought we’d talk to Tom a bit about the intersection between illustration and story-telling.

First, for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to look at Origami Yoda, how would you describe your artwork in OY?

The drawings are all doodles made by one of the 6th graders, a kid named Kellen. The fact that they were supposed to look kid-made took a lot of the pressure off. But for my next book, Horton Halfpott, I won’t have that excuse.  (Here is a quick peek from Tom’s NEW book, Horton Halfpott: or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset!)

Copyright 2010 Tom Angleberger

Were illustrations always part of your original vision for OY?

Actually no. At one point I thought about using photos of the different kids. Then I decided to draw them and spent much time doodling and messing around while looking through an old yearbook of mine.

Copyright 2010 Tom Angleberger

At almost the last minute my awesome editor, Susan Van Metre, suggested adding the doodles in the margins and I’m so glad she did, because it gave Kellen his voice. When I realized that Mr. Howell looked like Jabba the Hutt and that Kellen would want to draw him as Jabba … that was when everything clicked.

The book’s designer Melissa Arnst not only fit all my doodles into the margins she gave the whole book a wonderful handmade, passed around, 6th grade boy-handled look. And Jason Rosenstock – who, unlike me, is a real illustrator – made the glorious cover art and the little spaceships down by the page numbers.  (Ed. note: Check out this article by Chad Beckerman on the evolution of the OY cover.)

So in the end it far surpassed my original vision!

Do you have some favorite illustrations in OY? Which ones are they and why?

Getting to draw the different Star Wars characters was so cool, so the Star Wars School Bus (pp. 50-51) is a real favorite. I could hardly believe Lucasfilm was letting me do it.

I also did the really terrible clip art for the Fun Night posters. And I’m pretty proud of how awful they look.

I recently read some advice to the effect that writers tend to spend their “down time” working in words – crossword puzzles, Scrabble, that sort of thing – and that writers should really try to spend some time in word-less activities.  What do you think of this advice?

Well, origami is a wordless activity and it was the actual folding of an origami Yoda that inspired the book. If I hadn’t folded my own Yoda, I wouldn’t have been able to put it on my finger and never would have had the idea for a kid who uses it to dispense wisdom.  (Ed. note:  Perhaps YOU would like to make your own Yoda?  Go here.)

At first, I thought middle-grade author/illustrators were a rare breed, but upon further consideration, there are quite a few, including this website’s own inspiration, E.L. Konigsburg. Can you talk a little about your background in writing and illustration?

For years and years I suffered under the delusion that I was supposed to be an artist. I was even an fine arts major in college. I produced absolute dreck that no one wanted to look at. After graduating I became convinced that I should write/draw comic books, despite a complete lack of either talent or discipline.

At one point, I applied for a job as a newspaper artist, and was assigned, by mistake, to a writing position.  It took that newspaper editor’s mistake for me to realize that I’ve got a lot more words than pictures in my head.

Your wife, Cece Bell, is also a writer/illustrator with several picture books such as BEE-WIGGED, ITTY BITTY and SOCK MONKEY BOOGIE WOOGIE. Given that you are in different genres, do you find that your processes are more similar or different? Do you give each other feedback on both writing and illustrating?

Our processes are completely different, but a vital step in both is the moment when we show the other what we’ve been working on for feedback, editing and suggestions. (Actually, Cece willfully bypasses me sometimes.)

This is a non-illustrator question, but I have to ask while I have you here. Without giving away too much, let me just say that I think the “pants” chapter is a work of genius, both in the problem and the solution. One of the things we talk a lot about here on Mixed-Up Files is finding ways to create authentic feelings and situations for our characters, and that chapter in particular reminded me of middle school. Was this something out of real life?

This one is 100% me. I have these light brown pants just like Kellen and any stray drop of moisture anywhere in bathroom is magnetically pulled to them and then it shows up as a dark brown and very embarrassing stain until it dries five hours later.

As far as being authentic … both this book and my first, Qwikpick, have got so much absolutely real stuff in them. People can decide for themselves whether it’s worth reading – and in the case of Qwikpick I guess they decided no — but it’s definitely authentic fiction. (Ficthentic?)

Copyright 2010 Tom Angleberger

Can you talk a little about that?  You made a reference to your first book, The Qwickpick Adventure Society (written under the pseudonym Sam Riddleberger), which did well criticallybut not commercially, while OY, by any measure, is doing extremely well.  Do you have any insights to offer?

It’s very sad when a book doesn’t catch on with the public. Especially in the case of Qwikpick, because I’ve written the sequel, but it remains unpublished. So the few people who did enjoy the first book never got to find out if Lyle’s secretly scribbled love for Marilla would be returned.

By the way, speaking of measures of success, you’ve just announced that OY will have a sequel!  What can you tell us about that?

I’m so excited about the sequel! Here’s the scoop: Tommy, Kellen, Sara and Dwight are back. So is Origami Yoda, of course. But … there is another … Harvey! And he’s folded something new which sets the whole book into motion. But what has he folded? Well, it’s a Star Wars finger puppet. But which character?

I’m inviting people to cast their vote in an online poll at my site.

I already know the answer — and Lucasfilm has approved it — but I’m not telling yet!

Final question: Who are some of your favorite middle-grade writers (bonus points for writer/illustrators!)?

I think the king of the midgrade is Daniel Pinkwater who has produced some just spot-on perfect illustrations. I’m thinking of Hoboken Chicken Emergency illustrations, the Snarkout covers and, of course, the perfect picture book, The Big Orange Splot.

More recently, Grace Lin really amazed me with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I completely fell in love with the story. And those chapter header drawings of hers sealed the deal.

Amy Ignatow completely blurs the line between writer and illustrator with The Personality Papers.

And, of course, Jeff Kinney is the Fred Astaire of writer/illustrators — his drawings are so perfect and distinct yet seemingly effortless.

Thanks, Tom, for these great insights into Origami Yoda!  And now, dear readers, an exciting giveaway we will have!  Tom has generously offered *this* ORIGINAL illustration from THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA to accompany the already fabulous prize of an AUTOGRAPHED COPY of his book.  Make a comment between now and September 1 to enter.  A winner will be announced September 2.

Copyright 2010 Tom Angleberger

Wendy Shang only sat on her son a little bit to get to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda first.  Her first novel, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, debuts January 2011.

Yoda is a registered trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. Title and character and place names protected by all applicable trademark laws. All rights reserved.

  1. Win or not, this looks like a great book! Please count me in! Go Yoda!

  2. Love the origami Yoda! Will there be an origami Chewbacca anytime soon?

  3. I loved Origami Yoda–when I was finally able to get my hands on it. As soon as my thirteen-year-old saw it in the book pile, he booknapped it. Fortunately, he’s a fast reader.

    Great article, Wendy. Looks like you also had a fight on your hands!

  4. I’m going out to my independent bookseller today to buy this book. Can’t wait to share it with my son.

  5. My students are crazy over Star Wars . . . can’t wait to tell them about this book.

  6. My boys are SO into Star Wars, I can’t wait to get this book for them. Thanks for the interview

  7. SMS Guys Read loved the book and can’t wait for the sequel. I don’t Admiral Ackbar is going to get the nod, but he totally had my vote.

  8. Origami: A great way to study Yoda – from all the angles. =) Appreciate the interview; thanks!

  9. I really want to read this book – so does my little brother. We have seen lots of images of Yodas that people have made online because of this book. So cool. Yoda!

  10. My sons LOVE Origami Yoda! We would cherish your art !

  11. great interview! Very cool book idea it is

  12. May the force be with me. hehehe

    Great interview.

  13. AAAACK! As a Star Wars nerd who loved the book … this was totally fun. 8]

  14. The force is strong with this one.

  15. What a great book – got a chance to see it at SWCV! 🙂