Arts & Entertainment

Children’s Author Shows TJ Kids the Origami Force

338yoda1In a visit to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School last Friday, children’s author Tom Angleberger made a proud declaration to the third-grade students who had gathered to hear him speak: He is weird.

In his book The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, the protagonist Dwight is similarly strange. The sixth-grader wears an origami version of the Star Wars character Yoda on his finger, a puppet which oddly proffers bits of wisdom to Dwight’s classmates.

Angleberger asked his audience to guess why he would write about the weirdest kid in school among so many other possible topics – such as vampire waffles and racecar-driving princesses, he suggested, to laughter from the children.

He wrote about Dwight because Angleberger himself was the weirdest kid in his school.

“I was the second shortest, and the first weirdest,” he said, standing before the students an unabashed Star Wars fan in his R2D2 cap, Jabba the Hutt T-shirt, and an overshirt depicting even more characters from the science fiction franchise.

But Angleberger stresses that being weird isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing.

“The weirdest kid is not necessarily going to be a failure. After it’s all over, in the real world, weird actually has some benefit,” Angleberger told the News-Press. “Everything that was weird about me in school is now my job.”

It’s only recently that Angleberger became a full-time children’s author. The Shenandoah Valley native had a 15-year career in journalism with The Roanoke Times before he decided to pursue his own writing full-time.

“The time came when I just couldn’t go to another local government meeting,” Angleberger said. Development in his coverage area meant a need for increased sewage-handling capacity, and a two-hour tour of a sewage plant proved more than he could bear (though the experience would later influence his The Qwikpick Adventure Society, in which a group of children sneak into a sewage treatment facility to see a fabled “fountain of poop”).

Angleberger found his inspiration for the The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in an idle moment browsing the Internet. He saw a rendering of Yoda by origami master Fumiaki Kawahata, a complex paper-folding project which in a popular online tutorial takes more than half an hour to complete.

“Even though I had loved Star Wars and loved origami for years, it never occurred to me to try to fold a Star Wars character,” Angleberger said. “The idea never popped in my head, so when it did it took off.”

On the popularity of the book, Angleberger has released an entire series based on Star Wars characters. Thus far, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling, and The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett have sold more than three million copies, and Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue! is due out next March.

Though much of the Star Wars franchise predates his young readers, Angleberger says they’re quite familiar with its stories and have unique perspectives on them which have influenced his writing.

“The kids know it better than we do,” Angleberger told the News-Press. “I’ve had to up my game as far as Star Wars knowledge.”

Indeed, his audience at TJ was well aware of Yoda, even down to details like what color light saber he should wield. Some of the students brought their own origami creations, folded from directions in Angleberger’s book, but all were given the chance to fold their own Yoda.


As little squares of green paper were passed out to the children, Angleberger found a volunteer to help him fold a much larger Yoda as instruction. When the five folds were done, all of the students had their very own origami Yoda to wear on their fingers just like Dwight, the oddball hero who Angleberger hopes will teach kids that it’s OK to be weird.

“School is this crazy, chaotic place,” Angleberger told the News-Press. “And it may not seem like you’re winning at school, but if the force is with you, it will help see you through the whole thing and you’ll come out on the other side of it.”