Monday, September 5, 2011

REVIEW: Darth Paper Strikes Back (YAY!!!!!)

Once again, I must apologize for the lack of posts.  It would seem that as stressful as preparing to move halfway across the country was, actually moving and starting the new job is even *more* stressful.

Lucky for me, there was a happy book delivery to my new home....

I have been waiting for this book to come out for YEARS several months.  I absolutely loved The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and taught it to my undergraduate children's literature classes.  It was one of the few books that the vast majority of my students seemed to enjoy.  (There were, of course, always a few Star Wars-haters or disinterested-ers who couldn't get into it.  There were also people embarrassed to be seen carrying around a book with such a nerdy cover.

Then there's me.  I want a poster of this cover to put up in my office.*  Whatever.)

But more than the fun Star Wars references, Angleberger seems to *get* it.  He seems to truly remember what it is to be a kid; the concerns and the humor.

So, I was very happy about the sequel:  Darth Paper Strikes Back....

[Cue Star Wars music!!!!!!!!!]

Appetizer:  "It is a dark time at McQuarrie Middle School."  Harvey has been causing trouble by making an origami Darth Vader and it's only the first day of seventh grade.  Worst of all, Dwight has been suspended and may have to go to a correctional and remedial education facility.  Before Dwight left the school with his Yoda finger puppet, Yoda managed to give one last bit of wisdom:  To ask Tommy, Kellen and some of the other kids at McQuarrie to build a case file to prove that Dwight isn't a danger to anyone.

What follows are the accounts of many of the seventh graders, speaking about the good deeds Dwight (and Yoda) did over the summer at the skate park and during the fall in science class and at other events.

The fact that Angleberger includes a "multicultural inclusion gone wrong" episode was of particular interest to me.  Caroline, who was a love interest to Dwight in the previous book, but who has now started going to a private school, is having trouble with an "understanding our differences" policy at her school since she is the one who is different.  Caroline has a severe hearing impairment.  She usually reads lips, but since her new classmates try to converse with her by yelling or using sign language (which Caroline does not use) she is having trouble understanding them.

Yoda's advice to Caroline *does* involve telling a lie (which I won't reveal the specifics of).  I wasn't too crazy about the lie.  But the fact that the situation was included and that Yoda/Dwight still provided a fun solution that made me think Angelberger or Yoda needs to start an advice column for middle schoolers.  He does an amazing job of encouraging empathy across different backgrounds and experiences.

As I continued to read Darth Paper Strikes Back, a few concerns did come to mind.  In this book, Harvey is presented as being a villain.  Although I will admit he was my least favorite character during the first book, he still represents a very real characterization.  So, I wanted to see a bit more understanding of his perspective sooner.  Also, this book includes pseudo-swear words (You know, %$#@, etc.).  The reason I mention this is because I know for a fact that second graders read this series.  I could see parents of children that young being upset by such typing.  (There was also use of the word "crap" on page 71, which, when I was little I used to get into debates with other kids over whether that was a swear word or not.  The character who uses the word does get in trouble for his bad attitude after using the word.  But still... *shrugs*  Parents of second-graders be warned.)

This is a series that grows with the students though.  The first book included a lot of different voices in episodic short chapters and had drawings in the margins throughout the entire story.  Darth Paper Strikes Back includes longer chapters, fewer voices, conflicts that build across chapters and, due to some of the plotting, the margin illustrations are not used in the final third of the story.  The book is slowly helping younger readers to transition to novel reading.  Good show.  Good show, I say.

Angleberger also begins to build an argument about the way creative and unusual kids are treated under the "Teach to the Test" mentality that schools have.  Here's an excerpt from Tommy's point-of-view that demonstrates this:

I was almost to my locker when I saw Principal Rabbski up ahead.  She likes to stand in the middle of the hallway so that all the kids have to detour around her. 
I put my hand up and pointed Origami Yoda right at her. 
"If you strike down Dwight, he will grow more powerful than you can possibly imagine!" said Origami Yoda. 
Rabbski sighed. 
"Tommy, I think it's time you and I had a little talk." 
..."Listen, Tommy," she started.  I've heard about your petition or whatever it is that you're going to give the school board tonight.  I can't talk to you about another student's disciplinary problems, but there are a few things you need to understand." 
She had a lot to say.  A lot of it was about the Standards of Learning tests that we have to take and how important they are to the students and to the school.  She said some students were a constant distraction from the Standards of Learning.  Not only were they hurting themselves, they were also hurting other students and the whole school, since school funding was based on test scores. 
"When I see you in the office for screaming at another student one day, and the next day you're walking down the hall with a Yoda puppet, being disrespectful to me, that just proves my point," she said.  "You're a good kid, but another kid has got you confused and distracted.  I need you to put Yoda away.  Put your petition away.  And concentrate on the real reason you're here:  To learn.  To ace the Standards test." 
Well, I was confused and distracted, but there was no way I was buying all that.  It had an Emperor Palpatine sound to it.  (pp. 129-131)
Well put, Tommy.

*Sets timer and begins waiting for the third book.  Also starts taking bets on whether there will be three or six books in this series.*

Dinner Conversation:

"It is a dark time at McQuarrie Middle School...
When did it start?  I can tell you exactly when it started.
The first day of school.  The very first day of seventh grade.  We didn't even get one good day.  We got, like, five minutes" (p. 1).

"Paperwad Yoda?  Sorry, this isn't the year of Paperwad Yoda."
And then he goes, "Bom bom bom bom-ba-bomb bom-ba-bomb."  Vader's theme.
And he sticks out his hand and there it is:  an origami Darth Vader, made out of black paper, with shiny silver eyes and a red paper lightsaber.
There are a lot of things that might have happened next.  I was about to say, "That's awesome," because I did think it was awesome.
But before any of us guys could say anything like that, Rhondella says, "Aww, it's so cute!"
And Sara says, "Yeah, it really is cute, Harvey."
And Amy says, "He's so teeeny!"
Harvey was furious, of course."  (pp. 2-3)

"This case file is to try and save Dwight and Origami Yoda from the school board.  His is it going to save them?  I have no idea.  But Origami Yoda said to do it, so we're doing it.
That was the last piece of advice Origami Yoda was able to give us.  Since then we've been on our own.  Actually, it's worse than that...
Instead of Dwight and Origami Yoda, we're stuck with Harvey and Darth Paper!" (pp. 8-9)

"Dwight looked like a zombie.  He was too freaked out to say anything.
But he held up Yoda, and Yoda said, "Out of school kicked we have been."
"Kicked out?  For what?  For having Yoda?  No way!" said Kellen.
"Way yes," croaked Yoda.  "Save Dwight you must."
"The truth for the school board you must write.  Another case file is needed."
I was going to ask him something useful about the case file--like, why we needed to write it or what it should be about--when Kellen butted in.
"Should I doodle on it again?" asked Kellen annoyingly.
"Hurt that could not, I guess," answered Yoda.
The Dwight's mother and Principal Rabbski came out of the office, and I didn't have a chance to ask my useful question" (pp. 16-17).

"Dear School Board,
Having had some time to reflect on the incident with the pre-eaten wiener, I have come to the conclusion that Dwight/Yoda are the good guys while the rest of the kids around here are a pack of wild savages who would think it was really funny if I ended up puking from food poisoning or getting a tapeworm or worse!" (p. 92)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

*Can somebody make this happen?  I've done multiple searches and an Origami Yoda one doesn't seem to exist.  Who wants to be a hero and find/make me a poster?!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails