Where I Belong

When I first became an elementary school librarian, I figured out pretty quickly that Mary Downing Hahn was the go-to author for scary stories. I guess that’s why the book I finished last night surprised me a bit. While parts of Where I Belong are horrific, it’s not the scary book I typically expect from this author. Oddly enough, some of my students who have no problem with ghosts, gore, or stuff like that find a few of the situations in this book a little too disturbing. It kind of makes me evaluate what really frightens people.

Brendan Doyle expects people to be mean to him. It’s pretty much all he’s known. Abandoned by his mother when he was little, Brendan has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. His current foster mom, Mrs. Clancy, doesn’t know what to do with him, and his teachers seem to feel the same way. Brendan doesn’t care much about school, so he doesn’t see why he should even try to pass the sixth grade. He doesn’t want to go to middle school anyway.

As for relating to other kids, he doesn’t. Brendan hasn’t a friend in the world, and he spends much of his time alone. He’s bullied by other kids and by a trio of ruffians who delight in terrorizing everyone they meet.

Brendan finds some measure of peace in his books, art, and visiting the forest nearby (which he’s sure is enchanted). One day, after building a private treehouse in the woods, Brendan meets an old man. He’s convinced this guy is the Green Man, the protector of the forest. Brendan looks to the Green Man as an ideal, someone to aspire to. Maybe he can escape real life and live in the forest someday, too.

Back in the real world, sixth grade is over, and Brendan is now attending summer school. He’s not enthused, even with a decent teacher and a possible friend, a girl named Shea. Shea follows him around–even when he tells her to get lost–and just will not allow him to ignore her. Almost against his will, the two become friends, and they find common ground in their love of fantasy, the forest, and family lives that aren’t so great. Shea even convinces Brendan to try a little harder at school so that she’ll have a friend in middle school. Maybe things are beginning to up for Brendan.

Unfortunately, things don’t stay so great for long. Once again, Brendan becomes the victim of the three hooligans who have given him a hard time before. This time, though, they take things a step or two further. Brendan wonders why the Green Man, guardian of the forest, doesn’t come to help him. He feels lost, broken, and alone, and he doesn’t know what to do.

But Brendan is not alone. He has Shea. He has the Green Man (who has a story all his own). He has his summer school teacher. He even has Mrs. Clancy. With their help, maybe he can find some hope. He may even find the courage to stand up to his tormentors and see justice done.

Soon, Brendan will discover that hope and friendship can overcome even the darkest times, and he’ll finally find out where he belongs.


I think I’ve made this book sound pretty good (not to pat myself on the back or anything). It is good, but I didn’t like as much as I wanted to–as much as I usually like Mary Downing Hahn books. I did cry at the end, so I was invested emotionally. I guess that’s something, but I much prefer Hahn’s spooky stories. I’m betting my students will feel the same.

Some of the situations Brendan finds himself in are, in my view, a bit too gritty for most elementary school kids. I’m thinking specifically of his run-ins with the three ruffians mentioned in my synopsis above. I think the book as a whole is fine for mature 4th/5th graders or middle school students, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a lot of my younger or less mature students. I just don’t think they’re developmentally ready for some of what Brendan encounters. (Feel free to disagree in the comments.)

For more information on Where I Belong and other books by Mary Downing Hahn, visit the author’s website.

 

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

Read you must all of Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books before proceeding! This is the sixth (and final?) book in the series, and I don’t want to spoil things for you…but I will! (I’m extremely in touch with the Dark Side of the Force!) Before picking up Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, make sure to read these prequels (which I guarantee are better than the actual Star Wars prequels).

Well, it’s been quite a ride. I read my first Origami Yoda book nearly three years ago, and I finished the sixth book last night. As far as I know, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus is the last book in this highly entertaining (and thought-provoking) series, but I’m still hoping that this is not the last we’ve seen of Origami Yoda and friends. To borrow from Princess Leia…

Help me, Tom Angleberger. You’re my only hope…

Anyway, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus picks up where Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue ended, and the kids from McQuarrie Middle School are in for yet another adventure…one without Origami Yoda!

Now that the FunTime Menace is no more, the students of McQuarrie Middle now get to enjoy things like elective classes and, of course, their highly anticipated field trip to Washington, DC. But what will they do when Rabbski, their principal-turned-math-teacher declares that origami–especially Origami Yoda–is off-limits? How will these seventh graders survive without the sage advice of Origami Yoda?!

Have no fear! Dwight is here…with a bunch of Fruit Roll-Ups he folds into Fruitigami Yodas. Unfortunately, the vile Harvey also comes prepared with EMPEROR PICKLETINE, the most evil, sour, and smelly being in the galaxy! Harvey and Emperor Pickletine seem bent on ruining this field trip, and the Dark Side may be more powerful than anyone realized. Is Fruitigami Yoda strong enough to fight this new threat?

As the seventh graders of McQuarrie Middle explore Washington, DC (and get into a fair amount of trouble), a battle is brewing between the Dark and Light Sides of the Force.

Who will win? Will Yoda come through for the Origami Rebellion one more time? Well, I can’t say. But I can tell you that this final battle is full of mischief-making, fisticuffs, space food, and even a little bit of smooching! I’ll leave it to you to find out who does what!

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What can I say about this series that hasn’t already been said? It’s opened up so many cool conversations between my students and me. (They are fully aware of my love for all things Star Wars.) I know Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus will only add to those conversations…though I have to admit I may steer them away from making origami figures with pickles. Yuck!

I realize this may be the last Origami Yoda book–at least for a while–but I think I’ll be enjoying this series with my students for many years to come. (I still think we’ll see more from Origami Yoda. After all, we never thought we’d get Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of Star Wars either!)

To learn more about all things Origami Yoda, click here. You may also want to check out the video below. May the Force be with you!

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett

Warning you must heed! Read first three Origami Yoda books you must! Annoying yet, is this?

So…as you’ve no doubt gathered, this post will focus on the fourth book in Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett. (In case you can’t remember, the first three books are The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.) You really need to read the first three books to fully grasp what’s going on in the fourth. If you’re a Star Wars nut like me, that shouldn’t be a problem.

In this fourth book, the students of McQuarrie Middle School are facing a terrible evil.  More evil than the Empire. More evil than a Sith Lord without his morning coffee.  More evil than Jar Jar Binks. (Well, maybe not that bad.)  This semester, the school is eliminating all electives–Lego robotics, drama, music, yearbook–and forcing kids to spend those class times watching the horrible FunTime videos that are supposed to help increase standardized test scores.

As one can probably imagine, the students are not happy about this, and, with the help of Captain Dwight and Origami Yoda, they decide to do something about it. The students of McQuarrie Middle form their own Rebel Alliance and try to figure out a way to put an end to FunTime (and it’s stupid singing calculator). Their plan is risky, but it may just work if they can get enough kids on board. Armed with a battalion of origami Star Wars figures, the students of McQuarrie Middle seek to restore order and balance to the Force at their school.

Will the Rebel Alliance succeed in defeating the dreaded FunTime Menace, or is this war bigger than they realize? And what will this rebel band do when help comes from a surprising source? Learn just how much a determined group of kids can accomplish when you read The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger! May the Force be with you!

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I must say that I enjoyed this book just as much as the other three books in the Origami Yoda series.  I do think, though, that it’s basic message might just be geared toward adults as much as kids. (I hate to say it, but it’s definitely a message that the “powers-that-be” in my own state and district could stand to learn.) If you ask any quality educator, they’ll probably tell you–at length–how they feel about standardized tests.  (In short, we hate them.)  Our hands are tied, though.  We have to do what we’re told…just like our students do.  It doesn’t make anyone happy, and I honestly don’t think you can measure a student’s achievement by looking at one test.

This book, quite frankly, gives me hope that change can happen…and it will begin with students. Once students and their parents have enough of being tested to death, things may just start to shift. I can almost guarantee teachers will get on board fast. Will it happen while I’m still an educator? Only time will tell…

Aside from all of the stuff about the evils of removing electives to focus on test-prep, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett is like candy for Star Wars fans. Every student we meet has their own origami Star Wars figure (which are often matched to the students’ personalities). It’s really cool and kind of makes me want to start a Star Wars club at my school. (That would probably be the greatest club mankind has ever known.)

This book is a great read for the Star Wars fan (or the frustrated educator) in your life.  It demonstrates what a determined group of people are capable of accomplishing if they work together. Good times.

For more information about the Origami Yoda series and author Tom Angleberger, visit http://origamiyoda.com/.

One more thing! This Saturday is Star Wars Reads Day! For information on an event near you, check out http://starwars.com/reads/!

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder

When I became an elementary school librarian, it didn’t take me long to realize that some of the books I would be reading–and promoting–would deal with a fair amount of potty humor.  For some reason, that kind of stuff especially appeals to 2nd-5th grade boys and girls.  The ever-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has its share of grossness.  The Captain Underpants books are also in high demand.  Well, I was recently introduced to the first book in a new-ish series that takes potty and fart “humor” to a whole new level.

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø is, as one can tell from the title, a book about a very powerful fart powder. I received a free copy of this book, and I decided to give it a quick read before I put it in my school library.  That was a wise decision.  At times it was funny, but I really wasn’t thrilled about reading a book where the main focus was flatulence.  I quickly grew tired of the entire premise.  I’m thinking many of my students might feel the same way.  (At least, I hope so.)

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This story takes place in a small town in Norway, and a tiny young boy named Nilly has just moved into the neighborhood.  He and his new friend Lisa kind of inadvertently become assistants to the strange Doctor Proctor, who is trying to invent something that will make him famous.  And Doctor Proctor has done it.  He’s invented a fart powder that will make people have super-powerful farts with no bad smell.  In addition to the regular version of this powder, he’s also created a special powder that will lift who ever ingests it into outer space.  It’s Fartonaut Powder!

Nilly and Lisa decide to sell the regular powder to the kids at school, making them instantly popular.  They, along with Doctor Proctor, decide to send the special powder to the scientists at NASA, but, before they can go through with their plans, thieves decide to steal both powders!  Now, Doctor Proctor and Nilly are in a world of trouble, and Lisa needs to find a way to fix everything.  It won’t be easy, and it may just involve sewers, trickery, an anaconda, and escaping from a seemingly inescapable prison.  (Who knew a book about farts could be so suspenseful!)  Will Lisa, Nilly, and Doctor Proctor win in the end, or will all of their plans–ahem–run out of gas?  Read Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder to find out!

Anyone who knows me can probably already surmise that I wasn’t a big fan of this book.  I don’t like potty humor (most of the time), so a book that was essentially one long fart joke kind of left me cold.  Also, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the writing, and I think it will be hard for some young American readers to relate to the Norwegian setting.  While this book does have some merits, and I will tell some of my students about it, I don’t think this is one I’ll be putting in my school library.  There are better books that are not so blatant with the fart humor and have the same kind of voice that was present in this book.  Do with that what you will.

If you’ve ever seen the absolutely dreadful British children’s movie Thunderpants (starring a very young Rupert Grint), you might already have some idea of what Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder is like.  That movie and this book are very similar and, in my opinion, equally bad.

If you enjoy a good fart joke and still want to give Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder a try, you might also like to know that this is only the first book in the series.  As far as I can tell, there are four books so far.  You might want to check on Amazon or Goodreads for the exact series order.

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee

Warning!  Read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back before continuing.  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee picks up right where Darth Paper left off.

It’s no secret that I’m kind of a Star Wars nut, so no one should be shocked that I’m a big fan of Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series.  Getting kids hooked on Star Wars (especially the original trilogy) can only be a good thing.  Yesterday, I finished the third book in this series, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, and it was just as wonderful as the previous two books.  It’s a funny read with a bit of mystery thrown in…not to mention loads of wonderful Star Wars references.  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee is a perfect read for anyone, no matter what age or gender, who loves Star Wars or just a really good book.

When we last saw the students at McQuarrie Middle School, Dwight (the “owner and operator” of the famous Origami Yoda) had been suspended.  He is now attending Tippett Academy, and his friends (Tommy, Kellen, and the gang) aren’t quite sure what to do without him…or Origami Yoda.  Who will give them the advice they need?  Who will keep them from embarrassment and trouble?

Chewbacca to the rescue!!!   Sara has arrived with the Fortune Wookiee!  This paper fortune teller, along with his companion Han Foldo, has come to McQuarrie Middle to guide students in the ways of the Force (even though Chewie and Han never used the Force).  But why does the Fortune Wookiee’s advice seem to get the guys to do exactly what the girls want them to do?  This is one mystery that needs to be solved!

Another mystery that is plaguing the students at MMS concerns Dwight.  According to reports, ever since he transferred to Tippett, Dwight has become normal (boring).  He does his homework, he behaves in class, he’s given up origami (even Origami Yoda), and he’s just not as lively as he used to be.  What’s going on here?  Can Dwight’s friends—and even his arch-nemesis Harvey—discover the truth before both Dwight and Origami Yoda are gone forever?

Just like the other Origami Yoda books, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee combines humor, Star Wars, art, and mystery to create a fun, fast read that everyone will enjoy.  And this isn’t the last we’ve heard from the students of McQuarrie Middle!  Something horrible is about to happen at their beloved school, and they’ll need to harness the power of the Force to fight it!  (I’m not sure yet when the next book will come out—or even what the title will be—but you can bet that I’ll get my hands on it as soon as possible.)

If you’d like to learn more about this fantastic series (including how to fold your own origami Star Wars characters), visit http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/.  Have fun!

Darth Paper Strikes Back

If you haven’t already read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, do that before proceeding.  The events in Darth Paper Strikes Back directly follow Origami Yoda.

Last year, students at McQuarrie Middle School began taking advice from a finger puppet.  This wasn’t, however, just any finger puppet.  This was Origami Yoda, and it seemed as if he was one with the Force, even though he was probably just a piece of paper sitting on Dwight’s finger.  Origami Yoda helped guys talk to girls, predicted upcoming pop quizzes, and stopped bullies in their tracks.  The Force was strong with this one.

Now, it’s one year later, and the Dark Side has descended on the students of McQuarrie Middle.  Dwight—along with Origami Yoda–is in danger of being expelled.  Who will give students guidance as they navigate the rough halls of middle school?  Chaos is rampant in Origami Yoda’s absence, and the situation is not helped by a new presence at the school—Darth Paper (an origami Darth Vader resting on the finger of Harvey, general negative guy and Dwight’s nemesis).  Darth Paper has brought the power of the Dark Side to McQuarrie Middle…and things are bad and getting worse. 

It’s also becoming clear that Harvey and the evil Darth Paper could be responsible for getting Dwight and Origami Yoda kicked out of school in the first place.  Can the friends of Yoda overcome the Dark Side and redeem Dwight’s good name, or will the Sith rule at McQuarrie Middle School?  Read Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger to find out! 

Just like The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, this book is a must-read for Star Wars fans.  In addition to an awesome story, Darth Paper Strikes Back contains instructions on how to create origami Star Wars figures and a cool game that would be super easy to play.

Adults, particularly educators, who read this book will also find something to enjoy.  Darth Paper Strikes Back addresses such issues as encouraging student creativity, how much emphasis is placed on standardized testing, school fundraisers, and taking action against bullies.

There is truly something for everyone in Darth Paper Strikes Back, and, if you pay attention, you’ll see that there might just be more origami Star Wars fun in the future.  For more information on this series, visit http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com.

May the Force be with you!

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Star Wars enthusiast.  Actually, that’s probably putting it mildly.  I’m a total Star Wars nerd.  I’ve even had my picture in the paper with my extensive collection.  I waited in line for thirteen hours just to get tickets to Episode I (which I saw five times on opening day…and I wore a different Star Wars t-shirt to each showing).  So yeah, I love Star Wars.  It may be surprising to some, though, that I don’t read many books related to the Star Wars universe.  I don’t like to mess with the world created in the Star Wars movies, particularly the original trilogy.  (George Lucas, can you hear me?)  I did make an exception, however, with my latest read.  It’s not strictly Star Wars fan fiction or an Expanded Universe novel, but it does involve my favorite little green Jedi.  This book is Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and I think this is a perfect book for Star Wars fans, young and old, and those who may be new to the wonderful world of Star Wars.

Dwight is not a normal kid by any stretch of the imagination.  He’s probably the weirdest kid in the sixth grade, and he’s about to take his weirdness to a whole new level.  Dwight has created his own origami Yoda.  Yes, Yoda.  The little green Jedi master from Star Wars.  Origami Yoda even gives advice to the people around him, including Tommy, a sort-of friend of Dwight’s who needs an answer to a really important question. 

Everyone knows it’s just Dwight speaking in a really bad Yoda voice, but why, then, does Origami Yoda seem to know things that no one, not even Dwight, could possibly know?  Is the Force flowing through Origami Yoda and helping the students at McQuarrie Middle School?

Tommy and his friends want to know the truth about Origami Yoda.  How can he possibly have all the answers?  And why does Dwight, on whose finger Yoda rests, not follow Origami Yoda’s advice?  Will Tommy be able to find out what’s up with Dwight and Origami Yoda before asking the most important question of his entire life?  A question about–gasp!–a girl?

Join Tommy, Dwight, Origami Yoda, and a whole cast of characters as they navigate the confusing world of middle school and try to find the answers to the really tough questions in life.  Can Origami Yoda help?  Read this book you must if to find out you want!

If you’d like more information on the Origami Yoda books, including the next book, Darth Paper Strikes Back, visit http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/.  May the Force be with you!