The FORTUNE WOOKIEE and HAN FOLDO talk about their Book Birthday

On August 8th, David Etkin and Brent Peterson hosted a book birthday party at Sweet Home Middle School in Amherst, NY.  They were celebrating the birthday of the third book in the Origami Yoda series, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger.  Fortunately for them, the Fortune Wookiee himself and Han Foldo were on hand to witness the event. They were nice enough to describe what happened.

Brent and David also sneak a photo op with Mr. A.

A couple videos of the fun….
Here is a HUGE slideshow of the WOOKIEE Birthday Party. We didn’t want to leave anyone out.

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We would like to thank everyone involved in helping to make this book birthday party a success.  First and foremost, thank you to Tom Angleberger, Mr. @OrigamiYoda himself. We know you were busy with the release and the book store visits. It was awesome that you fit us in. Thank you to Kim Krug (@monkeysread / for your help with books as well as at our party.  Amy Williams @AmyW13 for your help with all the set up, Michelle Doroiala @shelbydoro and Suzanne Rizzo for manning stations, Larry Leaven (asst. superintendent at Sweet Home CSD) for supplying a free copy of Fortune Wookiee for any student who came, Marty Pizur my principal for his support, Don Feldman for his help with our Skype session, the Sweet Home MS custodial staff for set up, and everyone who came to help make the event a success.

Skyping with WONDER author RJ Palacio

On Friday, May 18th, RJ Palacio joined the 140 Sweet Home Middle School students on AlphaTeam and Team Possible via Skype to discuss WONDER.

It took a few attempts to connect–anxious moments indeed–but that just gave us time to raffle off some great titles that Kim Krug of Monkey See, Monkey Do brought along for the students.  By the time we connected and RJ popped up on the screen, the students were pretty pumped up.

Yeah–we teachers were too.

Here is the intro we gave RJ. (We were asked to call her RJ, just in case you were wondering.  Just another thing that we enjoyed about her:):Once in a while a book comes along that creates an unmistakable buzz.

We started hearing this buzz in 2011 on the book blogs we follow—like the Nerdy Book Club blog.

Wonder, and its hashtag #thewonderofwonder, started burning up the Twitterverse.  When we had the opportunity to get an advance copy of this WONDER, we jumped.

There are many books that are exciting. Many books that are thrilling.  Now that we’ve all read WONDER, I think we can agree that Wonder…is a life changer. It’s about being a better person. It’s about treating others with kindness.

Wonder can be summarized with two quotes from the book:

Mr. Browne’s first precept: When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.
Be kinder than is necessary.

There are not too many times that a book really makes such an impact on us that we feel as though we need to expose as many people to it as we can.  Fortunately being a teacher allows for me the forum to do so.  We hope that all of you have enjoyed listening to the lives of the characters in WONDER as much as we have enjoyed reading them to you.  We would like to thank R.J. Palacio for her willingness to offer her time to us and to allow us to discuss this “WONDER”ful book.

And with that, we give you—RJ PALACIO!

DAVID: It was a little overwhelming to hear RJ speak and answer the students’ questions. After reading WONDER 4 times (once on my own, then aloud to three classes), I feel like the characters are my friends. To hear from the woman who invented these friends of mine was amazing.

BRENT: Her perspectives and explanations as to the characters motives brought a whole new understanding to WONDER for me.  I had these ideas about who everyone was and what they intended and to hear R.J. give additional background and insight as to why she had these “friends” act how they did was very cool.We had our students create questions about WONDER ahead of time so that we could choose a number of them to be read at our Skype session.  We did this for time reasons and also to ensure that the questions asked were not repeated or things that we had already discussed.

Here are a list of the questions that ended up being chosen and asked to R.J. by our students.


  • Why did you choose to write from different points of view?
  • Why didn’t  you write from Julian’s POV?
  • Why was Justin’s section all in lowercase?
  • Who chose the artwork for the book? Why did the pictures have only one eye?
  • Why didn’t Mr. Tushman do anything about Julian bullying Auggie if he knew about it?
  • How did you know so much Star Wars stuff?
  • Where did you get the idea for the precepts?
  • How did you choose the song quotes?
  • Have you been bullied? How did you handle it? How would you now?
  • What was the most emotional part of the book for you? (R.J. said that this was one of the best questions she had been asked!!)
  • Have your friends and family been inspired by the book?
  • Is there any future for WONDER in movies or television?

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DAVID: I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to blink back tears at a few points in the conversation. RJ’s answers were insightful and thought provoking.

BRENT: I agree.  I was blown away by her responses.  She took each question and responded with a very well thought out response.  It was really moving to hear her describe her characters as though they are real people.  I find that many times I feel that way as a I read a story but that usually diminishes as I get to discussing the book with others.  It was refreshing to hear her speak about them in that way.

DAVID: It was also rewarding to have my mom there to experience the interview with me. My whole family has read and discussed WONDER. My mom was thoroughly impressed with our students and RJ. We gushed about it for a long time afterwards.We concluded our time together with this:

Thanks to Monkey See, Monkey Do bookstore, we received discounted WONDER copies that our students were able to pre-order.  We ended up selling over 40 copies.

Links that you might be interested in:

Brent’s Todaysmeet blog post:
Brent’s original Wonder post:

David’s Todaysmeet blog post:

David’s original Wonder post: – original chat – video – final chat and video

RJ Palacio’s blog.

To show how the WORDofWONDER has spread, I played around with making this flowchart.  I call it my WONDERtracker. As big as it is, it is still incomplete:

Do you want to hear the unofficial soundtrack of WONDER? 1) join PING in iTunes; 2) search for David Etkin–click; 3) click on the “Wonder of WONDER” list.
Written by:
David Etkin (@DavidAEtkin)
Brent Peterson (@BrentJPeterson) /

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater–Review

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater

This review has officially been seen by the author:

That’s cool.


This 2012 Printz honor book was not what I expected.It was gripping and beautiful, but not what I expected.Forgive me, but when the title has the slight ring of The Hunger Games, and the flap tells me that…

Some riders live.

Others die.

And that Puck Connolly “never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice—so she enters the competition…” I immediately think of a book of action.

Though there is clearly action in this book—intense and well imagined—this is not a book of action. (The actual race doesn’t begin until page 380 out of 404.)

The Scorpio Races is a book of poetry, setting, and relationship. And it is beautiful.

Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick live on Thisby, an island of cliffs, clouds, and stiff winds. I imagine it as Ireland—so much so that I’m listening to the Celtic Radio station on Pandora as I write this.  Both Puck and Sean have lost their parents in Scorpio Races past and are struggling in their own way.

Sean is a “horse whisperer” and is the master horse caretaker at someone else’s stables. He is a four-time winner of the Races, each victory coming on the back of Corr—his water horse and closest friend. Corr belongs to the stable owner, Malvern, a cold, calculating, successful man.

Puck is younger than Sean, and in a quick twist of fate, realizes that the only way to keep her family home–and perhaps keep her brother from going to the mainland–is to enter and win the Race. She is the first girl ever to enter. On top of that, she chooses to race not on a water horse, but on her pony, Dove. (“It’s a horse! She’s fifteen hands,I can hear her say.)

“Hang on,” I can hear you say. “A water horse?” Oh, yes. Officially named capaill uisce (and pronounce COPple OOSHka), these horses swim out of the ocean each fall and climb onto Thisby. The men of the island try to capture and tame them for the Scorpio Races. Capaill uisce are bigger, stronger, faster, and more ferocious than common horses. They also live with the constant call of the ocean in their ears, and are often wooed by its song to plunge back into the ocean–rider be damned–land swim back to their home.  These water horses (based on myths of Ireland and Scotland, among others) are flesh-eaters. Racers (as well as locals and livestock minding their own business) are in constant danger. They never know when the capaill uisce will make a snack of their shoulder…or hand…or face.

Puck and Sean are on a collision course? Will they both get what they want and need…when they each need to win the race to get it?

Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Puck and Sean and is told from both of their points of view. They are independent and prideful. But beneath their rough exterior they are searching for that other. Up until now that other for each of them has been a horse. Their courtship is slow and drawn out. Old fashioned. And beautifully believable.

I haven’t read a book of such exquisite language in quite some time. Stiefvater takes her time with the plot to help the reader live the life of Thisby. Thisby is the book–an island whose sandy breezes I could feel blowing across my face; whose waves lapped the beaches in my ears; whose saltwater burned in my nose and dried crusty on my skin. That is the Scorpio Races.

Some of my favorite lines I marked as I read:

She’s wearing a dress that looks like she stole it. It has lace sleeves and Dory Maud does not have lace sleeve arms. (p. 141)

*   *   *

I sigh and put my hands in my pockets. I don’t swear, but I consider the shape of the word in my mouth. (p. 156)

*   *   *

         “Hullo, Mr. Kendrick,” he greets me brightly. “You look in fine spirits.”

“Do I?”

“Well, your face looks like it remembers a smile.” (p. 158)

*   *   *

         “It’s easy to convince men to love you, Puck. All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand. Something that makes them feel strong or clever. It’s why they love the ocean.” (p. 253)

*   *   *

         “What about you Kate Connolly? Puck Connolly?”

The way he says it, I feel certain he misremembers intentionally, because he liked the weight of the words when he said my name twice, ad that makes me feel warm and nervous and agreeable. (p. 293)

*   *   *

         “I’m sorry. My mother always said that I was born out of a bottle of vinegar instead of born from a womb and that she and my father bathed me in sugar for three days to wash it off. I try to behave, but I always go back to the vinegar.” (p. 294)

*   *   *

         “You leave nothing to assumption. You swallow her with your eyes. I’m surprised there’s any of her left for the rest of us to see.” (p. 347)

*   *   *

Don’t read this book if you need an action fix. The Scorpio Races is a book of poetry, of setting, and of relationship.

Linger and enjoy.

[For more words from the author–including her inspiration for the book–visit one her site: ]

STARTERS by Lissa Price–Review

Your body. Rented out. Used to murder.

Lissa Price

Imagine being old—and wealthy enough to mentally inhabit the body of a young, healthy, attractive teen.

Imagine being a teen—down and out, scouring the city for empty buildings where you can live for free. You have little food; you are on the run from the authorities; and your only option for earning money is to give up the use of your body to old people who have the money and want a second shot at being young.

This is the America in which debut author Lissa Price’s newly released Starters takes place.

Callie is a Starter, one of the young who survived the biological weapon attack of the Pac Rim sea battles. The young and the old were vaccinated against the airborne disease. The middle-aged were supposed to be strong enough to fight off the disease, but it proved too strong. As a result, the demographics of America quickly shifted. There were Starters–children and teens, many of whom were left parentless; and they were greatly outnumbered by Enders—the older generation who, through new science, could easily live to be 200.

Callie, whose parents are among the dead, realizes that in her dire circumstances she will not be able to care for the sick brother. Against her better judgment, she goes to Prime Destinations and agrees to rent her body to an Ender. She goes through an extreme beautification process (reminiscent of Katniss being prepared for the pre-Hunger Games showing) and soon finds herself in a nightclub. Of course, she isn’t supposed to be aware of any of this. The computer chip they implanted malfunctions: she is supposed to be mentally sleeping away back at Prime Destinations (AKA the Body Bank) while her body is being inhabited by an Ender’s brain.

While dealing with her new reality and identity, she becomes aware of multiple nefarious plots—ones that affect her kind in general, and one that affects her specifically.

In this thriller, Price leads us deftly through the twists and turns of this brave new world. While Hunger Games frightened me with its power hungry government that exerted total control, Starters is frightening on a more technological level. Biological weapons are out there; deadly diseases could result in disastrous casualties. And it is not too much of a stretch to believe that we are nearly capable of this kind of body swap. It was easy to put myself in Callie’s shoes.

Though it felt like there were some possible plot holes, the end of the book cleared up most of them. And with juicy, cringe-worthy plot twists at the end, Price has me anxious for the second and final installment, Enders, due out at the end of the year.

(As a side note, I also like that that this is a two-book series instead of a trilogy. Does that make it a bilogy?)

For a great interview with Lissa Price, check out Beth Revis’ post today on the blog League of Extraordinary Writers.

The Wonder of WONDER

Once in a while a book comes along that isn’t just good, isn’t just entertaining, isn’t just thought-provoking.

It’s life-changing.

Wonder is that book.

That is why I had to go buy my own personal copy.

That is why, no matter how long it takes to finish, I am starting it as a read-aloud today.

Wonder should be required reading for every human.


August (Auggie) Pullman has a genetic condition, a gene mutation, that “made war on his face”. Because of this, his life is different than that of other kids his age. The narration in the trailer above is the first couple paragraphs of the book. The first section ends with:

My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.


Wonder is told primarily from Auggie’s point of view, but other characters get turns at moving the story along. Eye-opening accounts are given by his sister Via, his new school acquaintances Jack and Summer, and Via’s boyfriend Justin.

Will Auggie fit in at his new school–the first school experience of his life? How will the other kids–and teachers–respond to this kid who is so different from others around him? How will Auggie show those around him he’s really not that different?

More than anything, I read this book through the lens of my past experiences. I wish I could say I have never made fun of another person; that I never eyed up someone who looked different–but I have.

I wish I could say that I was always kind to others; that I went out of my way to welcome and embrace those who are different, whether it be inside or out–but I haven’t. And that shames me.

Wonder reminded me of every social error I made. It reminded me of the times I prejudged, of the times when I saw a weakness and exposed it instead caring for it. I suppose as a teacher I’m not supposed to let on that I ever acted that way. But the truth is I made mistakes. As Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones says in Langston Hughes’ “Thank You, M’am”:

“I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know.”

Now I’m more determined to make up for that lack of judgement and character.

A number of years ago I was remembering a 6th grade experience. I was unkind to a kid a year younger than me–a kid who had trouble fitting in. I felt terrible about it all those years later, and I said, “Lord, if I ever see ‘Charles’ again, I’ll apologize and set things right.” Who did I see just a week later? Charles was standing outside of the coffee shop as I went in. He seemed happy to see me. We shook hands and caught up.

Then I took a deep breath. “Charles, I know there were times I wasn’t very nice to you. I picked on you instead of…”

“No, no,” he said. “That was a long time ago. Don’t mention it.”

“I know it was, but you were on my mind the other day and I knew I needed to apologize to you if I ever got the chance. I’m sorry I wasn’t nicer.”

He brushed it off, but I could see in his eyes he appreciated it.

I felt relieved, for sure.

Reading Wonder, I am aggravated, maddened, and saddened by the people who treat Auggie so poorly. But that aggravation is aimed right back at me. Would I have been any better were an Auggie at my school? Would I have seen past? Would I have looked deeper? I don’t want to answer that.

And that is why I think it is so important to read this book. Wonder gives us a chance to see deeper and to look closer. Perhaps once we’re friends with August, we will be more willing to embrace others who don’t fit our vision of beautiful or cool.

The title of the book comes from the author’s favorite song:

Doctors have come from distant cities

just to see me

stand over my bed

disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders

of God’s own creation

and as far as they see they can offer

no explanation


We are all wonders of God’s creation. May we work harder at living that way. At accepting others that way. At accepting ourselves that way.

Below are a bunch of cool links n’ videos n’ stuff. Click to your heart’s content.

Colby Sharp’s interview with R.J. Palacio.

R.J. Palacio’s post on the Nerdy Book Club Blog (about Mr. Browne’s precepts).

R.J. Palacio’s blog–where you can find the playlist of the songs she references in her book and Mr. Browne’s Precepts. Worth a look.

Another teacher, Brian Wilhorn, is reading aloud Wonder. He is putting together information on his blog to help his students understand some of the cultural references. This is quite impressive and I recommend you take a look:

My colleague, Brent Peterson, also blogged his thoughts on Wonder.

….And if you would forgive me one shameless moment of pride, R.J. Palacio actually mentioned me in her “Thank You” post. Halfway down it says:

Thank you amazing teachers and librarians who have such a passion for bringing books to your kids.

Thank you Kim Harte, Adriane White, Kelly Butcher, Rebecca Butcher, Tracy Wymer, KateR2R, Lidnsay Healey, Sharon Goodwin, Mummy Barrow, Kate Conley, Zac Harding, Tim Oneill, Mike Winchell, Matt Imrie, Katherin Sokolowsky, David Etkin, Gae Polisher, Sabrina YABliss, Nicole LeFreniere, Mike Hutchinson.

Thank you everyone who has blogged about WONDER….

I was reading it in bed when I saw that and almost dropped my iPad on my head. Unreal.

Just for fun, I’ll include a couple songs that were important to the book.

[I don’t know what the visuals are on this video, but it’s nice to see the lyrics]

A new cool trailer made by a librarian: