26 April 2011

Fonts of Wisdom in Origami Yoda

At the back of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is one of those usually high-falutin’ notes on typography:
The main text is set in 10-point Lucida Sans Typewriter. The display typeface is ERASER. Tommy’s comments are set in Kienan, and Harvey’s comments are set in Good Dog.
That note lists more fonts than is common, but still greatly understates the situation. There are other chapters credited to the characters Mike, Sara, Cassie, Lance, Marcie, Quavondo, and Rhondella, each in its own font. There are posters and suspension slips in yet more typefaces, probably also overseen by designer Melissa Arnst.

Origami Yoda has what my Parameters of Narrative Voice system calls a clear Paper Trail: the novel is made to read like a document or collection of documents from its fictional world. And in this case it looks reasonably like such documents as well: a middle-schooler’s report on recent events with classmates’ contributions, handwritten comments, illustrations, and graffiti.

Because Origami Yoda has such a powerful visual dimension, I was surprised to see it just won the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. With good training and preparation, a reader could use different voices for each narrator to match the fonts. But how can an oral delivery get across the wrinkled pattern laid under each page, suggesting the whole document has been stuffed several times into a backpack? How does one read aloud a sketch of a Shakespeare bust falling down the margin of one page and saying, “Oh Poop!” upside-down?

(In classrooms, I suspect the answer to the last question is “Very carefully.”)

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