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We interrupt this picture book challenge for a Wookiee Break: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee

Um, before I get started here, I just realized that Wookiee has two “ee”s in it, not one, like cookie. But don’t worry folks, you’re in good hands, I swear. While it may be true that I am no Star Wars aficionado, I know a thing or two about what kids like when it comes to books. For instance, I can tell you that every single copy of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in my library, and my one copy of Darth Paper Strikes Back, were checked out on the first day of book exchange. Gone. One of the borrowers had already read all three books in Tom Angleberger’s series and now he was starting over again. When I told another kid that there was a new third book, The Secret of the Fortune Wookie, our conversation went something like this:

Me: So I see you’re taking out Darth Paper Strikes Back. Have you read the first one in the series, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda?

Kid: Yeah. (*Expression says, “Of course I have. Hasn’t everyone?”*)

Me: Great! Did you know there’s a third book out now? The Secret of the Fortune Wookie? It’s really good. I’m sure you’re going to love it, in fact -”

Kid: Do we have it in the library? (*Tone says, “Cut the chit chat lady and just gimme the book already.”)

So as you can see, Angleberger’s series has a devoted following. Every one of the aforementioned borrowers was male, and I’m cool with that, but I really think that if girls gave this series a shot, they’d find these books as fun and funny as the boys do, and really true in their portrayal of middle school culture.

McQuarrie Middle School is not the same. Since Dwight is at Tippett Academy for a semester, it means no Origami Yoda to advise and entertain the McQuarrie crew. But then Sara shows up with a freshly folded origami oracle: The Fortune Wookiee. She says it’s a gift from Dwight. It gives advice, just like Yoda. So the gang decides to determine whether the Wookiee’s advice (as interpreted by Han Foldo) is any good. A new case file is opened and things get weird. But what’s really weird is the way that Dwight is adjusting to his new school. As reports of Dwight come in, it seems that he has become… normal? How can this be? Normal Dwight is not normal. This is more mysterious – and even harder to understand – than the Fortune Wookiee himself.

To get the most of Book 3, you want to start from the beginning of the series. I like the way Angleberger is developing the characters and their relationships. There is such realism in the way that they relate to each other. They aren’t precious. If a character thinks another character is acting stupid, he just says so. Kids are usually honest like that. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about each other, it’s just how they work. The whole series so far has really focused on Dwight’s strangeness and his creativity, and I think that in this installment the theme of difference gets explored most fully, in a non-cheesy way. Hopefully kids will see how you can look at “weirdness” differently, as something to be appreciated and even admired. Someone who is “weird” sees things differently, and sometimes that means that this person gives us things that nobody else does.

You don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to delight in these books. I’m proof of that, and I plan to work on getting some of the girls reading Dork Diaries and Raina Telgemeier’s books to try a little Origami Yoda for something different.

Now go make a Wookiee:

Day 19, book 19: Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen

Q: Who doesn’t like tiny, cute, fuzzy bunnies?

A: Big Mean Mike.

Michelle Knudsen’s new picture book is all about Big Mean Mike and his journey towards embracing his inner bunny-lover. A dog this big, this spiky, and this tough, has his image to worry about. Having a big, mean car that makes a big, mean noise whenever he revs the engine really helps out with Mike’s image. You know what doesn’t help? Having tiny, cute, fuzzy bunny stowaways in said car. This is a BIG problem, and Mike doesn’t like it. Not One Bit. But, if this story teaches us anything, it’s that bunnies are irresistible, even if you are the type of character to wear a spiky collar.

I like how over the course of the first few pages of text, Knudsen gets in as many “big, mean”s as she possibly can. Readers start smiling because we’re getting the feeling that Mike is trying awfully hard to be big and mean, from his bark, to his combat books, to his souped up car. This makes the picture of Mike discovering the first sweet, little bunny in his trunk particularly hilarious. Kids will be laughing as soon as the page turns. It doesn’t matter at all that we don’t know why the bunnies have shown up in Mike’s car. It makes it funnier, actually.

Scott Magoon‘s illustrations capture Mike’s macho attitude perfectly. Mike’s posture, his clenched fists, his very angry eyebrows – all of these details bring Mike to life and convey his increasing frustration with his bunny problem. And the bunnies are adorable. They look soft around the edges up against Mike’s very defined lines, and their little pink cheeks could not be any cuter. Surely little boys will love Mike’s car, which looks like one of my nephew’s favourite Hot Wheels. When the other tough dogs show up for The Monster Truck Show, there are plenty of laugh out loud details in Magoon’s pictures that poke fun at the tough guy crowd.

Big Mean Mike proves that just about everyone has room in their hearts – and lives – for some fuzzy cuteness. Just when you think you’ve worked out your image, sometimes life puts a bunny in your glove compartment.

Big Mean Mike is published by Candlewick.