This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In Tom Angleberger's new book, things are going all wrong at McQuarrie Middle School. There's a new emphasis on standardized testing, and classes such as music, art and Legos are cut because of it. In "Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett," the group of kids that readers first met in "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" have to work together again to figure out what's going on and how to fix it. They're guided, by the way, by a paper finger puppet Yoda.
Angleberger, the author of four books in the Origami Yoda series, will speak in St. Louis about his work at Left Bank Book's downtown location at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8. While en route to Murfreesboro, Tenn., he shared how he started this series, what his own superpowers have meant to him, and where the kids at McQuarrie are headed next.
Beacon: I read that you were inspired by the origami Yoda from Fumiaki Kawahata. Can you start by telling us how that led to the Origami Yoda series? What got you thinking about that character and the misadventures of middle school?
Angleberger: Well, it's all because the Kawahata Yoda is so hard to fold! I'm no origami master, just a dabbler. So it soon became clear that if I wanted an Origami Yoda -- and who doesn't? -- I needed to invent a really simple one. When I did, it fit in my finger like a puppet. So that makes you wonder what he would say. Would he give good advice? Sure. But could it be good enough to get you through middle school?
One of the really cool things about your books is the way they inspire participation, with readers making and sharing their own origami. When did you first get into origami yourself?
Angleberger: My mom showed me how to make a paper cup when I was about 5. I've always loved it. And hated it when projects ended up looking like paper wads.
On your website, you share that your superpower is Aspergers. When did you start thinking of Aspergers in that way, which seems positive and empowering?
Angleberger: It's easy to focus on my many, many problems. But when the Origami Yoda books took off, I realized that some of the same things that had seemed like problems were now the basis for my entire career. I couldn't write these books if I wasn't an Aspie.
Have you heard from any readers who also have Aspergers about their experiences or that they’ve changed their perspective about it?
Angleberger: Those are some of the best letters I get. I love it when a kid tells me, "that's my superpower, too!" Because I know things aren't always going to be easy for that kid, and, like me, they may need to embrace their weirdness to get through.
What are you working on now? Are there more adventures ahead for the kids at McQuarrie?
Angleberger: Yes, a fifth book was recently announced. I'm almost finished with the writing, and then I get to do the doodles. Plus I have a new picture book out with my wife, Cece Bell, called “Crankee Doodle.” And lots more projects coming soon. Basically, I am having a great time writing, drawing, folding and going around meeting amazing kids.