The multi-titled Horton Halfpott

It’s not often that you get a book with alternative titles these days. It used to be more common in the old days. Thus you would have Charles Dickens titling a novel Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, and Mary Shelley calling her gothic tale Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. But I recently read a book published only last year that has three possible titles, as the cover proudly proclaims — Horton Halfpott, or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset.

Horton Halfpott is the new kids novel from Tom Angleberger, the author of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda (see my post “Following the blog posts to Origami Yoda”) and its sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back (see my post “Darth Paper Strikes Back”). This new book bares little resemblance to the author’s previous two works — which is a good thing. It’s nice to see him branching out.

It is a very odd tale. It all begins one morning in Smugwick Manor, when M’Lady Luggertuck decides to loosen her corset. Suddenly, she is no longer quite as angry or mean-spirited as she has been all her life. The momentous event comes to be known as The Loosening, and sets off a chain of events that will change the fortunes of a lowly kitchen boy named Horton, as well as all the residents of Smugwick Manor.

I love the ‘olde worlde’ turn of phrase in this book, and the way so many events are given undeserved importance with capitalisation — the book is full of “Unprecedented Marvels” and even a “Considerably Larger and Somewhat More Ancient Evil”. And then there are the many bizarre metaphors and similes…

But wait, you ask, how could Luther—intolerable, obnoxious, odious, odoriferous, and generally unbearable—win the hand of the most sought-after young lady in England? Why, with an Evil Plan, of course.

And, like a fungus of the foot, just such a plan began to fester and grow in the damp recesses of Luther’s brain—sporing from synapse to synapse until his whole head itched with it.

I also got a chuckle from the way the author often refers to fictitious books about the past adventures of M’Lady Luggertuck, such as M’Lady Luggertuck and the Unlucky Cobbler and M’Lady Luggertuck’s Parisian Shopping Spree.

The plot is twisting and turning, but in a reasonably predictable way. There are no major plot surprises in this story… but it doesn’t matter. I think the plot works as well as it does because it plays upon readers’ expectations and fills its pages with bizarre and over-the-top characters— from Miss Neversly, the cook who constantly beats Horton about the head with her wooden spoon, to the great self-promoting detective Portnoy St. Pomfrey, who is rather less adept at solving mysteries than his press would have you believe.

After reading this book, I am very much looking forward to Mr Angleberger’s next literary effort, which I am very pleased to say is again, multi-titled. Fake Mustache, or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind is due out in April this year.

Catch ya later,  George

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Darth Paper Strikes Back

Origami + Star Wars = a fun series of kids’ books. Intrigued? Read on…

Last year I came across a rather oddly titled book — The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger. The title alone was enough to spark my interest, but the blog posts I read about it convinced me that I should buy myself a copy. (Check out my post “Following the blog posts to Origami Yoda”.) I’m so glad I did. It is a charmingly original and highly entertaining read.

It’s a children’s novel about a group of middle school kids and an origami Yoda puppet. One particularly weird kid named Dwight, brings the origami Yoda to school and starts dispensing advice. Miraculously, his advice turns out to be very helpful and so the kids begin to wonder if this finger puppet really is imbued with the power of the Force.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was a runaway success. So now we have the second instalment, Darth Paper Strikes Back.

But now Origami Yoda has to contend with the power of the dark side — in the form of Darth Paper, a new origami puppet on the finger of a rival kid named Harvey. Darth (and Harvey) manipulate a situation to ensure that Dwight is suspended from school and threatened with the possibility of being sent to a school for difficult students. So now, it’s up to Dwight’s friends to build a case to present to the school board in the hopes of saving Dwight and his origami Yoda.

As you would expect, both books are chock full of Star Wars references — some obvious, others more obscure. Even the school names, such as McQuarrie Middle School, are references. But these references never overshadow the storytelling and are very much in context.

I loved the first book, and my biggest fear was that the sequel would simply be a cash-in. I am relieved to say that it is not. Darth Paper Strikes Back recaptures the charm and interest of the first. The main characters are likeable and each gets his/her time in the spotlight.

This book is also interesting for it depiction of the American public school system and its bureaucracy. It is not at all complimentary. In fact, it is this bureaucracy that is the real villain in the story.

Without actually giving away the ending, I need to mention that I love the way things are resolved. There is no neat contrived solution in which the evil Empire of bureaucracy is defeated. Yes, things work out for the main characters, and yes, Dwight gets a happy ending… but it is brought about through a decision to no longer engage with the enemy. It is a very satisfying ending.

I’m now hoping there will be a third book.

You definitely need at least a passing familiarity with the Star Wars films to enjoy these books. But you don’t need to be a hard-core fan. While there are many obscure references, not getting them all will not hamper your enjoyment of the story.

If you’d like to find out more about these books and their author, Tom Angelberger, check out the Origami Yoda website.

May the Force be with you,  George

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Goodbye 2010

2010 is almost over. For me personally, it was a bit of a mixed bag — some good stuff; some not-so-good stuff. As for writing and reading, it was a pretty damn good year. So, let me sum it up for you. Yes, that’s right — if Literary Clutter were a tv show, then this post would be the flashbacks episode. 😉

I got to do some fun school visits (check out this post on Dee White’s Kids’ Book Capers Blog), some bookstore signings (check out my Shameless Self-promotion post) and I participated in the Pigeon Letters literacy project (check out my Pigeons post). I had the honour of launching issue 2 of [untitled] and Sue Bursztynski’s new YA werewolf novel, Wolfborn. I also spent the second semester teaching a creative writing subject at the University of Melbourne (a HUGE learning experience for me). But top of the list for 2010 events was Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (check out my Aussiecon 4 Memories post), held here in Melbourne in September.

It was a good year for books, with lots of great titles released during 2010. My top 5 for the year are as follows: (keeping in mind that there was an awful lot of great stuff I didn’t get around to reading)

  1. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (I’d also include Leviathan, which was published in 2009, but which I did not get around to reading until 2010)
  2. Trash by Andy Mulligan [read my review]
  3. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger [read my review]
  4. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski [read my review]
  5. f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

I started blogging in 2010 with Literary Clutter and I’ve really been enjoying the informal writing approach that it offers. My teen novel, Gamers’ Quest, continued to sell steadily. I had six school readers published. I wrote another seven school readers, as well as a six book kids’ library reference series called What’s In My Food, that will be published next year. I wrote a whole bunch of short stories, some that I’ve managed to sell, and some that are now languishing at the bottom of my crap drawer. And I’ve been working on a sequel to Gamers’ Quest. I’m very excited about this and will undoubtedly post about it in 2011. I’m on the home stretch at the moment, so my blogging will be taking the back seat for the next few weeks. Don’t expect more than one post a week until I’ve handed the novel to my publisher.

So, what sort of wonders does 2011 potentially hold? I’m REALLY, REALLY, REALLY looking forward to the publication of two books — Goliath, the third book in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series; and Liberator, the sequel to Richard Harland’s Worldshaker. I’ve got some more school readers lined up, and hopefully another library reference series (I’m still waiting on the publisher to get back to me on this one). I’m planning on starting a new novel. And I plan on continuing to blog — assuming, of course, that the lovely people at Boomerang Books still want me to. 🙂 I’ve got some interviews lined up and I’ll also be reviewing a stack of books. And then there are the videos I’ve been promising — little author interviews that I recorded at Aussieon 4. I’m afraid I still haven’t finished editing them… so you’ll have to wait a little while longer for those. Sorry!

So folks… Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you lots of exciting new books and many hours of reading pleasure.

Catch you all next year.

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Following the blog posts to Origami Yoda

When it comes to tie-in merchandise I don’t think there’s anything out there that could possibly top Star Wars. The words “Star Wars” have been slapped on to everything from bed sheets to breakfast cereals. And it seems that every time I walk into a shop there’s another piece of Star Wars merchandise. Amongst all this merchandise are, literally, hundreds of books. I read a few of them when I was a kid, but I never really got into them. So I don’t actually pay that much attention to the release of Star Wars related books. But then, along came The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

The first I heard about this book was via a short blog post by author Sandy Fussell (who writes the Samurai Kids books). I read the post and was intrigued. I mean, really… how can you not be intrigued by the title. Sandy’s post included a link to a guest post on the blog of author Cynthia Leitich Smith (author of numerous YA novels). This guest post was by Tom Angelberger, the writer of the Origami Yoda book. I followed the link and was delighted by Angelberger’s story of how the book came to be written and published. Go and read the post… it will persuade you to buy the book. I clicked away from that blog, straight to an online bookstore and purchased The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

I received it in the mail, put it on to my must-read-soonish stack and forgot about it once I had placed a few review books on top of it. But a couple of weeks ago, I rediscovered it and read it. And glad to have read it, I am.

It is not a typical Star Wars book. It is not set in the Star Wars universe, or even in outer space. It is set in an ordinary American middle school where the kids encounter the wisdom and advice of an origami Yoda finger puppet.

Origami Yoda is brought to school by a particularly weird kid named Dwight. Any time anyone needs any advice, Dwight pops the puppet onto his finger and dispenses the advice with a very bad imitation of Yoda’s voice. Now, the thing is… Dwight is a bit thick, but Origami Yoda’s advice is wise. How could this be?

The book is a case file of incidents put together by sixth grade student, Tommy. As he says in the opening line, he wants the answer to “The big question: Is Origami Yoda real?” Or is Dwight just playing a joke on everyone? So he collects incident reports from a bunch of other students. Each student relates the story of when they got advice from Origami Yoda and what the outcomes were. It all concludes at a school dance, where Origami Yoda’s advice to Tommy will be put to the test.

It’s a really fun, unique book. Angelberger weaves a story with interesting characters, gentle humour, sage advice and a great deal of charm. Each of the kids in the story is well realised, but it is the character of Dwight who is the standout. His quirky personality steals the limelight, even from Origami Yoda. And the book concludes without too many explanations, which actually works really well. As I read the book, I was fearful that the author would be tempted to reveal too much… so was very relieved when he didn’t. The book was a joy to read and I recommend it to you, even if you’ve not much of a Star Wars fan.

Apparently, there is a sequel in the works, due out in 2011, and it looks like it will feature at least one other origami version of a Star Wars character. I must say that I think the book is perfect as it is, and I fear that a sequel may water down its effectiveness. But I’ll keep an open mind and read it when it’s released.

For more info about Origami Yoda and Tom Angelberger, check out the official website — www.origamiyoda.com

Oh, and just in case you’d like to make your very own origami Yoda, check out this video:

And tune in next time for some book trailers.

Catch ya later, George

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