Three childhood passions—drawing, origami and writing—come together for author/illustrator Tom Angleberger in his Origami Yoda series. I had a chance to talk with Tom recently about the wildly popular seven-book series. These books make strong models for classroom writing and can jumpstart playful exercises. Tom shared his thoughts and process, and below I offer a few writing exercises connected to the last book in the series, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus (Abrams, 2014, ages 8-12). As Origami Yoda, the wise finger puppet, might say: “Write you must.”
* MAKING UP WORDS: The middle-school characters in Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus use a made-up word, “stooky,” which means “cool” or “awesome.” Classroom Writing: Have students separate into five or so groups. Each group must make up three words, with one meaning “cool,” the second, “stupid,” and the third, “angry.” How might the made-up words sound like what it means? Or reflect something that seems representative of that word? (For example, the made-up word “volnormous” might mean “very angry.” Ask students to write their made-up words in a sentence or paragraph and/or use it conversation at some point during the day or at home. What was their listeners’ reactions?
* PERCEPTION AND VOICE: The book is a wonderful example of multi-voiced narration. Many young characters contribute and each voice is different. Tom says that each book presents it own challenges and that a particular challenge for him with Origami Yoda was crafting girl voices. “I had never worked with girl narrators before,” he said. “I had to work hard to make their voices and thoughts seem believable.”
Classroom Discussion: Ask students to look carefully at a few simultaneous chapters. How does each character see a certain situation differently? Also, what makes Tommy sound like Tommy? Or Sara like Sara? What makes each voice unique? (Students might look at vocabulary, sentence structure, words frequently used by that character, character’s overall attitude towards things.)
Classroom Writing: Have students put Harvey and Tommy (or Harvey and Sara) in a museum they have visited. How does Harvey look at this thing (a sculpture, a dinosaur model, a historic airplane)? Now, describe it in Harvey’s voice. How about Tommy or Sara?
* SNACK FOOD FIGURES: In the book, the characters make Star Wars figures from snack foods. Students might do this for homework, take a photo, and post it on Tom’s origamiyoda.com website. Or they might eat their creation, as Dwight does with his fruit roll-up creation Fruitigami Yoda.
* MORE “STOOKY” DETAILS ABOUT TOM: Click here for my interview in KidsPost section of the Washington Post.