The Great Animorphs Re-read: Megamorphs #1 “The Andalite’s Gift”

1153858 Megamorphs #1: “The Andalite’s Gift”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We never should have done it. But we needed a break. You know, some time off from the superhero stuff. A chance to act like normal kids. Well — as normal as four kids who can morph, a hawk, and an alien can be. Everything should have been cool.
Now Rachel is missing. And there’s this…this thing that’s after us. But it’s not up to me to tell the whole story. Tobias, Cassie, Marco, and Ax were there, too. Even Rachel has some info to add. So go ahead and check this out. And remember not to tell anyone what we’re about to tell you. It could mean the difference between life and death. Or worse…

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: Visser Three has a new pet and it hunts by sensing the energy given off when someone morphs. This, obviously, spells trouble for the Animorphs who must race to find a way to take out this strange creature all while their major advantage, their morphing ability, is also now their greatest weakness. As far as the story goes, that’s about it. Rachel ends up with amnesia, just to throw another wrench in the gears. There is a lot of action in this book, racing away from the Veleek, morphing different animals to see how the Veleek reacts, getting captured on Yeerk ships, and some more ocean action towards the end when they find a way to kill the beast.

This is the first “Megamorphs” book in the series. I think there ends up being around 4 or so of them? The book is longer than the typical books in the series and features chapters from the perspectives of all the Animorphs. While I enjoyed this book, I do remember liking the later “Megamorphs” books better as I feel like Applegate does a better job of coming up with things for them all to be doing in those. As you’ll see in the character portions, the action isn’t very evenly divided and certain characters (mostly Jake and Tobias) don’t end up with much to do and other Animorphs (Rachel) end up with storylines that, in the end, don’t have any tie-in/impact on the primary story arc. The stakes just never seem very high, and so far, this has been my least favorite book in the series. However, fun was still to be had in parts, so onwards!

Our Fearless Leader: Strangely enough, other than Tobias, Jake has the least to do in this book. Rachel has amnesia. Cassie saves the day. Marco and Ax are abducted. And Jake…becomes a tiger? Towards the end there is some commentary that Jake is the type of person who will become president some day due to his ability to make the necessary tough decisions, even when those decisions involve sending people he cares about (Cassie) into danger.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Even with amnesia, somehow Rachel ends up caught in the most gruesome fight scenes in this book, as detailed in the “body horror” section below. But it must speak to a deep truth about her character, some type of nature vs. nurture aspect, where she will go full throttle whenever challenged even if she isn’t quite sure why she can change into animals, what aliens are doing roaming the earth, and what not. She just knows that she can become a grizzly. And if you mess with her, that’s what she will do! The whole amnesia thing was a bit strange, though, really. There was no actual impact on the story due to this, so it mostly just felt like an added story line that went nowhere. But…oh well, I still love Rachel and enjoyed watching her confront the horror of their whole situation for the first time again.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. Not only does he get way fewer chapters than the rest of them (I believe he even had less than Ax!), but he literally sleeps through the major action scene in the middle of the book. I have to think that it was around this point that Applegate started playing around with options for getting Tobias back in the game. Turns out that as emotionally traumatic as it was turning one of her characters into a hawk, there isn’t a lot of plot action that can come from it and figuring out what to do with Tobias in the mean time during all of these books had to start getting frustrating.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s an adorable scene towards the end where Cassie meets up with Rachel who is still struggling with her memory. So to kill two birds with one stone, Cassie goes on a ride on Elephant!Rachel and gives her a quick run through of their history. The mental image of Cassie riding along on Elephant!Rachel is just precious. Besties forever! Their friendship is one of my favorite parts of the book, and probably my favorite part of Cassie’s character since she is the one I struggle with most in the series.

But, after a moment of weakness in the middle of the book that leaves Cassie questioning herself, she is the crux to the whole story. Her unique talent at morphing allows her to speed through the many morphs necessary to pull off their “drop through the air while morphing from a cockroach on Tobias’s back to human to a whale in order to crush the Veleek into the ocean where it’s particle body will break to pieces” crazy pants plan.

The Comic Relief: Marco’s truly terrible driving makes a second and even more extended appearance (last time was in book #2, I believe). Without even knowing its him, Rachel hears the car coming and thinks to herself “that’s a very bad driver.”

BAM! BAM! BAM!
“Do you hate trash cans?” Jake asked. “Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH
CANS?!!”
“I can’t drive with you screaming in my ear,” I [Marco] said.
“You can’t drive at all!” Jake said.

Turns out that when Marco volunteers for this little jaunt, his driving experience came from video games. Later the scene devolves into Marco continuing to drive, only this time he has Tiger!Jake in the back of the truck. Honestly, the Marco/Jake snark through all of this was probably the most fun part of the entire book.

Other than the silly mouse plot at the beginning (see the “bad plans” section), Marco’s major action comes from being captured by the Veleek and ending up on a Yeerk space ship alongside Ax. They escape by jumping out an open hatch, essentially. Come to think of it, a disproportionate amount of time in this book is spent with various Animorphs plummeting through the air desperately trying to morph.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax now has a 60/30 chance, it seems, of somehow ending up captured and on board a Yeerk space ship. Not counting “The Capture” where Jake is Controlled and which doesn’t involve really any major Yeerk battles, Ax has ended up on a space ship in 2 of the last 3 books. And, more importantly, gotten off alive, which is quite the feat! Sure, this time the space shift was still in the atmosphere which is the only reason his and Marco’s plan to just “jump out” worked, but still! I also have to suspect that Ax is going to continue to play a pretty strong role in continuing the charade that the Animorphs are all Andalite warriors. In this book, Visser Three mentions that some of the Yeerks had begun to become suspicious that humans may be involved, but here Ax is! But, Visser Three has also already met Ax and noted that he is a youth, something you don’t typically see in Andalite fighting forces. You’d think he’d start to be curious that the only Andalite he’s meeting is the same young kid. Hm…we’ll see I guess!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Two come to mind immediately, both for poor Rachel. The first comes right after she’s woken up from hitting the tree as an eagle (thus the amnesia) and discovers that she is halfway through morph. Now the descriptions are as nasty as ever about what midpoints in morphs are like (random patches of skin here, feathers there, talons sticking out of legs), but what makes it worse is that Rachel, at this point, has no memory! So the horror of waking up to find your body in that condition with no context for it?? The second moment comes after she’s been attacked by the Veleek in her bear morph and has had both of her paws…ahem…removed (what is it with her bear morph losing paws?!). And there’s a particularly gross part later on where she describes human fingers emerging from the gory stumps of her arms as she returns to human form. Yeah…

Couples Watch!: There are a few little references here and there to our favorite two couples. Rachel mentions that she takes care of things for Tobias that he can’t manage himself (like bringing him books to read!), and doing just that is what leads her into the amnesia trouble. She also remembers Cassie and Tobias first when she begins having flashes of memory. Cassie also mentions that Jake can read her facial expressions better than anyone else later in the book. And also resents the fact that she is suspicious that he sent her to look for Rachel around town (when they all realize she’s missing) not only because she’s Rachel’s best friend, but because he wanted to keep her out of danger.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: At one point in this story, Chapman meets up with a few other Controllers and one of them literally compares Visser Three’s melodramatics to the antics found in bad spy novels. I’ve been saying it all along!

Also, Visser Three’s ongoing love affair with Tiger!Jake shows up again in this book. I mean, the guy has, outloud!, waxed poetic about the tiger morph, and cats in general (Rachel’s house cat being the other instance), four times that I can remember at this point! And we’re only 8 books in! I think it’s safe to say that he has an obsession.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This one actually avoided most of the tragedy. There’s a point towards the end where Cassie tells Tobias that they will need to tell her parents what happened to her if her plummeting towards the ocean as a whale plan doesn’t work out, but only when it’s safe. So that kind of struck home about the reality of what would happen if one of their missions ended badly. They couldn’t even tell the parents why their child died because it would put the family at risk. Sads.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, Marco’s idiotic mouse plan in the beginning has to be mentioned. Essentially, he’s not invited to a girl’s pool party and instead of handling this gracefully, Marco decides to crash the party in mouse form to “see if anyone’s talking about him” since “she obviously has a crush on him.” It’s completely in character, and yet you just have to feel bad for poor Ax who gets dragged along with really no clue about any of this. Pool parties. Crushes. Teenage gossip. Immature practical jokes. At one point, Ax puts the whole thing down to Marco suffering from an affliction called “sense of humor.” And that he’s seen this strange affliction cause Marco to do bizarre things in the past, as well, so this must just be yet another instance.

Favorite Quote:

I think this exchange proves why I always hone in on how similar Rachel and Marco really are to how they approach the war. Essentially the same way, but Marco can resist quipping.

“Rachel isn’t here to cast her vote. So, on her behalf, I’ll say what she would say: What we need to do is find a way to kick this Veleek’s butt.”
Cassie smiled. “And what would the real Marco say to that?”
“He’d probably make some stupid but very funny remark,” I admitted. “Then he would start thinking about how to do just that: Kick this big windbag’s dusty butt.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

While the Animorphs do manage to kill Visser Three’s killer alien creature, their real success is simply: came out alive. So no points for anyone!

Rating: This was a fun first attempt at a book told from the perspectives of all the characters. But it’s also clear that Applegate was struggling a bit with the format and trying to find action for them all. If I remember correctly, the next two “Megamorph” books do a better job of it.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Book Club Review: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

24561496Book: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” by Ellen Oh (Editor)

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Kate’s Thoughts

The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is one that I have been following for a bit now. Basically, it’s goal is to promote, publish, and highlight books by diverse authors, and tell stories of many different viewpoints and experiences, especially in children’s and young adult literature. When our dear friend and fellow librarian Alicia picked the short stories collection “Flying Lessons” for our book club, I threw it on my request list and got it almost immediately. I also happened to read it during the first attempt this administration made on implementing a travel ban into this country. So yeah, this felt like a very pertinent read, especially since the hope is that diverse books will build empathy to other experiences.

Like most short stories collection, it had some highs and lows. But luckily, it was mostly highs! I really liked the varied authors that contributed to this, and how they all offered so many different kinds of stories without feeling like a box was getting checked off. I expected no less from Ellen Oh, one of the instrumental members of We Need Diverse Books. I will focus on my two favorites.

“Sol Painting, Inc” by Meg Medina: I love the other books by Medina that I’ve read (“Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”; “Burn, Baby, Burn”), and I was very excited to see that she had a story in this collection. She does a great job of showing one snippet of a day in the life of Merci, Roli, and Mr. Sol, who are Latinx and have a family painting business. While Mr. Sol and and younger sister Merci really love this business, so much so that Merci wants to open her own home improvement empire someday, the elder brother, Roli, is starting to feel embarrassed by it, and would prefer to focus on science things. Medina does a great job of showing the discomfort that Roli has surrounded by his very white peers in a very white space when they go to paint the high school gym, in exchange for tuition for Merci. This story also feels very real in Merci’s voice, as she is the narrator. She doesn’t understand her brother’s self loathing or her father’s self sacrificing. This is probably the saddest story in the bunch, but it was my favorite.

“The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin: Lin takes us back in time to long ago China. It follows the story of Lingsi, a servant girl who is also educated, as it was her mother’s dying wish and her mistress, fearful of being cursed with bad luck, agreed. Lingsi and her house are traveling to try and find a wife for the only son of the family, a cruel and idiotic lout. But as they are traveling, they are attacked by pirates, and Lingsi finds herself in a very surprising situation. I loved Lin’s story telling in this one, as I could totally see everything and hear everything with perfect clarity. It was also neat seeing a surprising feminist twist within this story. No spoilers here. But let’s just say that there is a history of female pirates during this time period. This story was fun and definitely satisfying.

I really liked “Flying Lessons”, and I think that it’s a great collection of short stories that all kids will love.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m always a bit hesitant about short story collections for a few reasons. First is the same reason that Kate laid out earlier and is true to a certain extent with this one: there can be a variety in quality from one story to another which can be an off-putting reading experience. Secondly, writing a short story is a completely different beast than writing a novel, a fact that I think many authors tend to forget and that then leads to questionable short story collections. Publishers simply paste all the big author names together on one title and think it’s a clear win, with no understanding that many of the skills and traits that make an author successful as a novelist may not carry over to a short story collection.

So, with all of this in mind, I was hesitant about this book, especially as it was often marketed and sold on the fame of the authors’ works it included. But, while there were a few misses, I was happy with the collection as a hole and there were a few stories that particularly stuck out. Kate already discussed two of my favorites, but I’ll throw in a third.

“The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist: This story follows Isaiah Dunn, a young boy coping with the death of his father and with his mother’s subsequent fall into alcoholism. Just with that short description, you know going in that this was one of the heavier titles in the book. But this story was so incredibly powerful for it! Grief itself is a huge subject, but the story also touches on so many other factors that all get swirled together in a the life-changing impact that comes with the loss of a parent. The trying economic situation of the family, the mother’s coping method, and the hope that can be found amidst it all is beautifully illustrated in this tale. I particularly appreciated the rather meta use of the power of stories that is brought to being in this story after Isaiah finds a old book of his father’s stories. Isaiah’s voice is also particularly strong, effectively portraying the innocence of childhood but never short-changing his ability to deeply understand the world around him.

As Kate said, there were a few weaker stories included, but even these would likely be well-received by the middle grade target audience of this book. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection and its ability to tell important stories without falling under the weight of too much “agenda.”

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun, touching, and varied collection of stories from some of the best children’s and YA authors out there.

Serena’s Rating 8: What else should we have expected from this strong collection of children’s/YA authors? Its strength lies largely in the variety of stories included, both in tone and subject matter.

Book Club Questions:

1.) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2.) Were there any stories that didn’t work for you as well?

3.) This book sets out to present a very diverse collection of stories. Are there any perspectives that you felt were missing?

4.) Were you familiar with any of these authors before? Did any of them have particular writing strengths that appealed to you?

5.) A lot of thought goes into the order in which stories are arrange din a short story collection. Were there any changes you would make to this line up and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flying Lessons and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”, and “YA Short Stories and Collections”.

Find “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #7 “The Stranger”

51s1mxgi0qlAnimorphs #7: “The Stranger”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel and the other Animorphs have finally found the new entrance to the Yeerk pool. They’ve even figured out a way to sneak in. The infamous roach morph. But they didn’t count on roaches being a Taxxon delicacy. This time escape doesn’t look so good.

And then everything stops. Everything. The feasting Taxxon, the human-Controllers, the Hork-Bajir. Time. Now Rachel, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Tobias, and Ax are in for their wildest trip ever. They’re going to get the chance to decide whether they want to stay on Earth and fight the Yeerks. Or go to another planet. And the guy giving them the choice says he can save them. Now all they have to do is make the choice…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: So much happens in this book! We have major family drama in Rachel’s personal life, with her father moving to a new city/state and asking Rachel to come live with him. We have a the re-discovery of a Yeerk pool entrance and a rather disastrous trip down. We meet an all-powerful alien creature called an Ellimist who offers to whisk the Animorphs, their families, and a few select humans away to a new planet to re-start the human race, claiming the war on Earth is lost. We have time travel. We have new morphs. We have major wins and major loses. And again, this is a tiny, tiny book!

As highlighted above, the main drama for this book comes with the arrival of the Ellimist and his offer to save the Animorphs. After deciding against his offer the first go around, the Animorphs all sink into a very dark place, but Rachel especially, questioning their motivation to continue fighting a war that they are being told is unwinnable. In an attempt to convince them for a second time, the Ellimist jumps them all forward in time to a version of their city that is now completely overrun by Yeerks. The school is laid to waste with skeletons of teachers left at their desks. The mall is a hive for Taxxons. And Rachel meetings a chilling older version of herself who now a Controller herself and palling it around with Visser Three.

After being returned to their own time, however, the group begins to question what they have seen. Future Visser Three’s strange reaction to Ax (being surprised that he was there), and the seemingly endless power of the Ellimist himself, leads the group to wonder at the elaborate methods being used to convince them and the inevitability of this so-called future. They come to the conclusion that the Ellimist is playing his own game within the structure of the rules imposed on him  by his kind. He has said that he’s not allowed to interfere, only to save the group. But through his interactions with the Animorphs he has saved them once (freezing time the first time he meets them when they are about to become Taxxon chow and allowing them an opportunity to spot an exit) and then showing them key intel  by transporting them to the “future” (they spot one skyscraper from the old city skyline that has  been left untouched). They are able to deduce that this skyscraper is where the Yeerks are storing the Kandrona, the food source that is transmitted to the Yeerk pool and sustains the Yeerks when they swim in it every three days. Back in their own time, the Animorphs are then able to use this knowledge to infiltrate and destroy it, marking a major win for the group.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Applegate sure doesn’t cut Rachel any breaks in this book. In a nice (terrible, for Rachel, at least!) little parallel story, Rachel’s dad asks her to decide whether she wants to move to another city and live with him. With this decisions comes many pros: a renewed dedication to gymnastics, a sport her father wants to help her pursue, a closer relationship with her father, and, of course, the chance to live a “normal” life far away from the constant fear of war and the stress she feels from the role she has taken on in the group as the de facto “courageous” one. I really liked how much thought and page time was given to this story line. In a tiny book that is jam packed with tons of action and high stakes, it is impressive that we get a very fleshed out take on the hardships of this decision as well and the stress it puts on Rachel. She loves her dad. But she also loves her mom and sisters who she would be leaving behind. She feels obligated to stay in the war against the Yeerks and has begun to resent being taken for granted by the group to make the tough calls. But she also loves her friends and can’t abandon them. It’s no wonder that she has several different break downs in this book.

Here we se even more how boxed in Rachel feels by the others’ impression of her. They take her courage and willingness to fight for granted, never considering the emotional toll it is taking on her. When the Ellimist first asks them to vote, they don’t even ask her, they just assume she’ll say “no.” And then she realizes that she would, but not just because that what she feels is right, but because they all respect her and look up to her and she doesn’t want to let them down. This constant tension between being strong for the others while repressing her true feelings (she can be hurt and scared as much as the rest of them, and her fear for her family and the temptation of the Ellimist’s offer is just as strong as well) leads to spiral in the middle of the book. Not only does she snap in front of her friends, yelling at them that she’s not invincible and fearless, but she’s the first to begin using morphing as a coping tactic, hiding in the simple-mindedness of her eagle form to escape. She also seeks out a stronger  battle morph, a grizzly, on her own. Several bad decisions here. First, the Animorphs have to touch an animal to acquire its DNA, so going it alone to get face to face with a grizzly with no back up is really dumb. And then, she never practices the morph, which we have all learned in mistake numero uno and thus has some control issues when she first uses it in the midst of battle. Her bear morph is really the only thing that gets them all through, its brute strength being the tipping point in their favor against tons of Hork-Bajir, so none of them can get too mad at her, but there are still “stern talks” from Jake about these poor decisions.

Our Fearless Leader: Dear Jake is a hold out both times against the Ellimist’s offer to save themselves and his family. It’s another testament to his role as the rock of the group, not one to be easily swayed against the mission or abandon the war they are fighting. He’s also the most upfront against Cassie who sides

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias yet again proves that he is the most dedicated to the fight against the Yeerks. He not only never considers the Ellimist’s offer to give up the fight, but is savvy enough to realize that he is being used against his friends. (The Ellimist returns him to his human form during these interactions and promises to allow him to remain that way if they accept his offer). He calls the Ellimist out on attempting to leverage their love of him to manipulate them into accepting so as to spare him a return to life as a hawk. Have I mentioned that I love Tobias?? It’s also fun seeing him pair up with Marco in the beginning of the book to discover an entrance to the Yeerk pool. It makes sense that he would do something like this having tons of time on his…er…wings, and Marco/Tobias is a team up that we don’t often see, so it was a fun twist.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, I really do try with Cassie, and there are times (like in the last book specifically) where I really love her character. But she immediately signs on to what the Ellimist is offering, and while I can see this being a true reaction for her character (approaching it as a human would view saving a few animals of an endangered species), I still have trouble respecting much of her thinking in many of the books, and this one in particular. Her lens often feels so narrowly focused that she isn’t as sympathetic as the others to me. Yeah, yeah, she loves animals and peace…but this is a really cowardly decision (not necessarily the choice as a whole, since we see the shades of grey as the rest of the Animorphs continue to struggle with the idea, but the fact that she rationalizes it so quickly). The fact that she so easily goes for it, even with characters like Ax who, presumably, knows more about this new creature than she does, is strongly warning against it, just sticks in my craw and continues to highlight what drives me nuts about her as a character. I mean, she’s the ONLY ONE who signs up immediately…that says something, I think.

The Comic Relief: As I’ve said so many times, Marco is the brains of the operation, proving it yet again by setting up the plan to track down an entrance to the Yeerk pool, along with Tobias. Other than that, Marco is the one to change his mind on the second go-around. And, again highlighting the pressure that is put on Rachel by them all, the first reason he gives for it is Rachel’s ongoing breakdwon. If the strong one is spiraling, what are the rest of them to do? It goes a long way to highlighting how highly Marco views and relies on Rachel’s courage in this battle. It’s not just “Xena” jokes, he truly does gauge their effectiveness based on her mindset, and seeing her lose it, shakes his own dedication to the fight.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s increased knowledge of the greater galaxy as a hole is again highlighted as a unique asset to the the Animorphs. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the Andalites, through Ax, are presented as a real and flawed society. They have their own biases and false histories, as evidenced with Ax’s interactions with the Ellimist. While he is correct to warn the Animorphs that there is more to the Ellimist than he presents, his clear fear and anger towards him is a bit extreme, as we see later in the book. Further, we haven’t had an Ax book yet, and there continues to be hints here and there that Ax still doesn’t view himself as really being part of this team. He takes himself out of the vote for whether to accept the Ellimist’s offer, for example, claiming it is not up to him to decide (though Rachel rightly mentally lists him as a “no” based, again, on his unsubtly expressed opinions of the Ellimist).

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Well, first off, the fact that they were all almost eaten by Taxxons while in roach morph. But secondly, the violence! So much gross violence. Rachel gets a hand taken off in the final battle and the description it…detailed. Again, this is crazy that it was written for a middle grade audience!

Couples Watch!: While she struggles with the decision presented to her by her father, Rachel’s reaction to is fly off into the night to be with Tobias. While she doesn’t tell him everything right away, it is sweet that she clearly relies on him for emotional support. Also, when the Ellimist first appears

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only shows up in the flash forward bit of the story, but he’s as campy as ever when he does, parading around with future!Rachel.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Rachel’s breakdown to the group was really sad and hard to read. Even as a reader, we come to expect certain things from her and it is easy to forget that she’s not oblivious to the pressure that these impressions of her assert. So it’s a shock to hear her yell at her friends with a healthy dose of brutal honesty thrown in about how she’s always scared, too. Always.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They actually have some fairly good plans in this one, even going so far as to think out the bizarreness of their clothes being found left on the floor of the mall’s changing rooms (the entrance to the Yeerk pool and where they all morph to roaches). Sure, they are vastly outnumbered in their attack on the Kandrona tower, but there is really nothing to be done about that and all’s well that ends well, I guess, even with lost hands/paws in the mix.

Favorite Quote:

Ax is having trouble adjusting to the small things of life on Earth…like “human minutes”…

“You know, Ax, they’re your minutes now, too. I mean, we are all here together on good old Earth where we only have one type of minute.” – Marco

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

A major win for the Animorphs in this one, taking out the Kandrona and likely dooming hundreds of Yeerks to starvation.

Rating:

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #6 “The Capture”

125332Animorphs #6: “The Capture”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It was really bad when Jake found out his older brother was one of them. It was even worse when Tobias stayed in his morph too long. But nothing compares to the horror the Animorphs are about to face. Nothing.
Jake and the other Animorphs have a feeling they know where the Yeerks’ new base is located. And they’ve found out how to get in – how many people will really notice a few flies on the wall? But they never figured that they might get caught. Or that Jake could fall into the Yeerk pool. That Jake could become a human-Controller. A Yeerk. The enemy.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: I only have vague memories of some of the plots of these books. This one I did remember was about Jake being infested by a Yeerk, but, as always it seems, there was tons more going on in this book that I had completely forgotten! In my memory, Jake was taken over about a quarter of the book in and the rest was his struggles, but nope! That only happens about halfway through the story (and considering how short these things are, you do the math on how much page time that means this plot line actually gets!)

The story starts out with a Jake doing something the Animorphs NEVER seem to do! Practicing a morph! This time it’s a cockroach morph that leads to a short, madcap adventure through Jake’s kitchen that ends with him stuck in a roach motel. It’s a pretty humorous start to the story and Applegate even plays a bit with the narrative, having the scene cut and then finish as a story that Jake is telling his fellow Animorphs later. The crux of their larger mission revolves around some quick deductions (and a mini mission as roaches into a Yeerk meeting) that lead them to believe that the Yeerks have installed a mini Yeerk pool in a local hospital which they are using to infest patients who come in for procedures. While this is worrying enough, the fact that the state governor is scheduled for a minor surgery in the upcoming week is the real kick in the pants they need to investigate. And low and behold, there is a Yeerk pool and in the confusion of battle Jake ends up face first in said pool, only to emerge as a Controller. Luckily, the Yeerk in his head doesn’t have the best self-control and lets out a few major slips early on in his possession of Jake, alerting the others that something is up.

The rest of the book is basically an outwit/outlast scenario set in an abandoned cabin in the woods with the Animorphs trying to coral Yeerk!Jake for the three days it will take to starve the Yeerk in his brain. We get some really interesting looks into the Yeerk’s mind and this portion really serves to flesh out the Yeerks as a species and explain some of the questions about how they are able to mimic the person they are controlling. It’s also a very drawn out Yeerk torture scene, as Applegate doesn’t pull any punches about the reality of what is happening, the Yeerk slowly dying of starvation. In the end, of course, Jake is freed of the Yeerk and the game board is essentially re-set, if only now with a clearer understanding of the Yeerks  altogether.

Our Fearless Leader: There are a lot of interesting things going on in this book for Jake. First, he is having nightmares of being a tiger and hunting his brother and then even himself. It’s a bit heavy handed, but I applaud Applegate for trying to bring in the psychological struggle of it all so early on in the series. Through these dreams, we can see the ongoing mental exhaustion that comes from living a life so full of violence and moral dilemmas. And for Jake, the chosen leader of the group, it makes sense that this burden would weight more heavily. Second, a large part of the  book is understandably spent simply in Jake’s head and it is interesting hearing his thoughts on his fellow Animorphs as he basically roots for them against himself. Through his eyes, we see just how adept this team has come at managing unexpected and difficult situations as a united group with very few missteps.

After Jake is taken over, we learn a lot more about the Yeerks as a civilization. Particularly, just how entitled they are! We hear about a species called the Gedds, which were the first race of beings to be taken over by the Yeekrs, and through Jake’s Yeerk’s thoughts on the matter, we learn that since the Gedds were simple minded beings, the Yeerks essentially decided they were just made to be infested. And then this mindset just expanded out to the larger universe.

As I said earlier, it was also really interesting (and horrifying!) reading about the process of being controlled. Jake discusses feeling like his brain is being read like an open book. And being amazed and horrified by how completely the Yeerk slips into character, able to mimic not just the words that Jake would say but the way he would say them. It’s all super creepy and really highlights the hell that all the Controlled beings are living in constantly.

Towards the end, when the Yeerk in Jake’s head is dying, things get rather gruesome. But in it all, we get a brief vision of a great red eye. I can’t remember all of the details, but I do know that this is foreshadowing for another big bad who shows up later on. I had completely forgotten that these little bread crumbs were being sprinkled so early.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s big moment is getting to be bait in some weird attempt to lure Yeerk!Jake into trying to escape into the woods. There are several problems with this plan, as I detail later in the “bad plans” portion. But another problem with it has to do with the Yeerk’s intimate knowledge of all of the Animorphs based on Jake’s own knowledge. I feel like Jake would know that, of all of them, Rachel would be the last one to sleep on the job and most likely to take the whole thing as a personal insult and just stare angrily at Yeerk!Jake for the entire time. So the fact that the Yeerk (and even Jake) is tricked by this, seems strange and out of character.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias really doesn’t do much in this book. He helps guard Yeerk!Jake, but can’t participate in most of the action of the hospital mission. Very sad for me, as a major Tobias fan.

Peace, Love, and Animals: The Yeerk immediately narrows in on Cassie as the weak point of the group, misidentifying her caring nature for naivety and carelessness. It’s an easy mistake to make, and I know that as a reader, even I am likely to fall into the trap of underestimating Cassie. But here she proves that her sympathy is a strength. Her greater knowledge of Jake (and people in general) allows her to focus in on the differences early on, and she’s just as fierce as her teammates when it comes to patrolling the woods and containing Yeerk!Jake.

The Comic Relief: Marco proves yet again that he is probably the smartest one of the group. I’ve probably said it before, and I’ll say it again, the decision to make Marco the most canny of the characters was a really good choice that saves him from just being, as this section title implies, the comic relief character with all the one liners. Here, Marco gets the governor’s schedule all on his own by coming up with the direct, yet effective, plan of posing as a member of the press on the phone and simply requesting it. If left to themselves, the rest of the Animorphs would have probably come up with some stupidly complicated mission that involved infiltrating the governor’s mansion with no prior scouting using three morphs they’d never tried before. He also identifies the deeper tell that Yeerk!Jake gives away: the fact that if Jake weren’t controlled, he’d be trying to help them with this plan to hideout in the woods as a necessary precaution, rather than arguing against it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax plays some pretty important roles in this book, both on and off page. First, if he hadn’t been there in his Andalite form, it’s not a given that the Animorphs would have caught on to Jake’s situation. Apparently the Yeerks just can’t contain their hatred! I mean, it wasn’t even a minor slip. The Yeerk outright called Ax “Andalite filth.” There’s really no coming back from that. Jake being “stressed” is a ridiculous attempt at an out, and one that the Animorphs weren’t buying for a minute. But I feel like we were all greatly denied the three days that Ax had to impersonate Jake at home. The few references we got to it were Jake’s parents’ confusion about his suddenly increased appetite and weird vocabulary issues during this time (and their barely disguised relief that he was back to normal when he returns). But given the last time we saw Ax as a morphed human he was busily eating cigarette butts in a mall, one has to think we missed out on real comedy gold never getting these scenes.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the cockroaches are pretty bad. They’re made a bit better by the comedic introduction the morph gets in the beginning of the book with Jake’s roach motel escapade, but there’s no avoiding the simple fact that they all end up morphing roaches. And then they morph flies. It’s just a book full of bugs. And, like all the bug morphs that have come before and I’m sure will come later, there’s the rather gruesome descriptions of their skeleton and organs all essentially turning to goo…

Couples Watch!: Not a lot of couple action in this one, really. Yes, Cassie is one of the early ones to become suspicious of Jake, a testament to her knowledge of him. And the Yeerk does make a few comments about Jake caring for her, but other than that, this book is largely focused on other relationships in Jake’s life, primarily that between him and his brother Tom.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three shows up in a human morph for the first time in this book. And it speaks to his truly evil nature that somehow all of the Animorphs sense that something is wrong about this particular human right from the get go. Visser Three is so evil that it leaks through his morph! Also, after the cockroach infestation is discovered at the super secret Controller meeting, there’s a pretty funny visual image of a bunch of human Controllers all frantically stomping around the room trying to crush bugs. This is what the mighty Yeerk empire has been reduced to…

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: All of the Tom drama. Through the Yeerk’s inner monologues to Jake, we get a real look into Tom’s deteriorating mindset through this prolonged time as a Controller (the Yeerk just happens to be the one who had controlled Tom). We saw him rebelling in the first book, but since then, things have gone down hill and Tom has pretty much given up. At the end of the story, Jake disguises his voice and calls Tom and tells him not to give up, knowing that his brother will hear him even through the Controller’s ears. It’s all very sad, especially knowing how long the journey ahead still is.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:  Most of their plans are pretty good in this book, actually, especially given their success rate at both their original mission and the fallout that comes from it with Yeark!Jake. It doesn’t take them long to figure out how to deal with what has to have been a completely unexpected situation, and they pull off the whole thing fairly smoothly. The one part I really didn’t understand was why they felt the need to set up the Yeerk to try to escape in the first place. Rachel pretends to fall asleep, and Yeerk!Jake sneaks out, and then they capture him again. But why?? There’s no real benefit to be gained from this. First, just try to discourage him to begin with by highlighting all the fail safes you’ve put in place. And then, worst case scenario, if he still tries it, you can capture him anyways. But there’s no benefit to risking anything going wrong with a fake out attempt. What if the Yeerk had tried to kill fake-sleeping-Rachel? She was pretty exposed as her human self just “sleeping” there. (The reader in me knows that this was just for dramatic effect, but that really just proves how bad of a plan it would have been in actual life).

Favorite Quote:

This is what I’ve been saying!!

“I can’t believe we are actually going to practice a morph,” Marco said. “We never practice. We just do it, and when it’s a huge disaster we try and deal with it then.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 3

Not only do the Yeerks miss out on the best opportunity to completely wipe out the Animorphs that they’ve had yet (if the Yeerk in Jake’s head had had a bit more self-control and successfully pulled the wool over the others’ eyes long enough to sneak back to base and report on them all, the Animorphs would have been completely done for), but the Animorphs were also successful in their mission to sabotage the hospital Yeerk pool plan. They prevented the governor from being taken over and they boiled a bunch of Yeerks in the process. So a pretty solid win!

Rating:

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #5 “The Predator”

125337Animorphs #5: “The Predator”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Marco never wanted to be an Animorph. He never wanted the ability to change into any animal he touches. He just wants to chill. Whatever happens, happens.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: This book is a perfect example of something that I knew I was going to eventually stoop to discussing, and that is the awful individual names of each of these books. If anyone else noticed, by this point it might have become clear that there is ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION between the supposed name of the book and anything obvious in the plot. I read somewhere that the publishers, not Applegate, chose the names for these books, but I feel like they should have known there was going to be a problem when, in what turns into a 50+ book series, they were already having a hard time matching this “The____” format with the actual plot of the books themselves by only book #5. Who is the “predator” in this?? Anyways, this is going to be an ongoing issue, but I’ll try to restrain myself to commenting on it for only the most egregious examples. On to the plot!

Ax is feeling the effects of being stranded on a strange planet far from home and wants to establish contact. So the action starts off in a very “E.T. phone home” sort of way. Turns out, shockingly, that Earth tech isn’t quite up to the loft standards of the Andalites, so the first third is essentially a caper around the mall looking for adequate substitutes at Radioshack (oh, the 90s). This adventure doesn’t go as well as one would hope due to Ax’s inability to reign in his joy at the discovery of taste buds (Andalites have no mouths, as we must remember). The end results is an inordinate amount of time spent hiding as lobsters before being taken to some poor woman’s kitchen where the nightmare of her life takes place: three lobsters turning into two human boys and a bizarre alien. So she’s definitely scarred for life.

The second third consists of their next brilliant plan: sneaking back into Chapman’s house, this time as ants. What could possibly go wrong! Lots, as it turns out. Ants are by far the worst morph they have ever chosen so far, as I will go into more later.  They do manage to get the super specific, high tech communication chip that Chapman uses to communicate with Visser Three on the Yeerk home ship, however. So on a purely practical (but not ongoing mental health) sense, they are successful.

The third part is where it all really goes wrong. The plan is to call down one of the Yeerk Bug Fighter ships and use their technology to reach across space to the Andalite home world. Turns out the Yeerks aren’t complete chumps and see through this ploy from a mile away. They show up in force and things aren’t looking good for our gang. The group, all disguised in battle morphs, are corralled onto a ship and transported into space. They’re all pretty resigned to their fate, at this point, as not only would they now need to overcome a massive force of Yeerks, but they’d also need to find a ship, learn to fly it, and survive a return journey.

But, as always, they hit a stroke of luck. Visser One, the most powerful Yeerk on the Yeerk high council is visiting to see how things are going on “Project: Take Over Earth.” Visser One is Visser Three’s superior, and they don’t get along. This internal, political feud pays off for the Animorphs in a big way as it turns out that Visser One is more interested in embarrassing Visser Three and highlighting his incompetence by having him lose a bunch of Andalite warriors off his own main ship than in actually capturing said Andalite warriors. Thus the Animorphs are provided with a clear path out and a pre-programmed ship to return them home. But…the most major revelation of it all, Visser One isn’t just any old Yeerk Controller. She is Marco’s mother, not dead at all. This obviously changes Marco’s entire outlook on the fight going forward.

The Comic Relief: Marco has been the most reluctant Animorph from the very beginning, but he also has the best reason for this. Of them all (except for Tobias), Marco’s life already kind of sucked before this whole alien war started. His mother died suddenly in a boating accident a few years ago, and his dad has spiraled completely, losing his job and their home and essentially withdrawing from life and Marco. At this point in the story, Marco is coming up on the two year anniversary of his mom’s death, and looking at the state of his dad, he decides that this is his last mission. His dad can’t survive another loss if Marco doesn’t make it, and after the close call as a dolphin in the last book… In respect for the sacrifice that Ax’s brother, Elfangor, made on their behalf, he’ll help with Ax’s project to reach home, but after that he’s out.

Marco is the most reserved of the narrator’s we’ve seen so far. Not only have we seen Marco putting on a brave/snarky front in the other books to the other characters, but as a narrator himself, he feels more withdrawn and less open with the readers, still playing it close to home with his true feelings. As his book continues, these barriers come slowly down, most dramatically when he discovers the truth about his Mom. But I found this to be an interesting and very true take on the Marco, that something that is so central and has been so well established to Marco’s character (his unwillingness to easily lower emotional walls) would still be present, even in his first person narrative.

As a narrator, Marco is, of course, a good time. He’s witty, while also probably being the most insightful into the true character of each of his friends. And really, it’s a lucky thing he has all of this going for him considering the more weighty aspects of his tale. Other than Tobias, who has definitely locked in on the award for “Most Tragic Animorph,” Marco’s life has been rough for a while and though he discovers his mom’s still alive, the fact that she is controlled by the most powerful (and thus most well protected) Yeerk in the galaxy is a small joy. Though, this does give Marco his reason to finally truly commit to the war against the Yeerks.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake and Marco’s friendship is great. We have some lighter moments that shed some insight onto how these two became friends, with Marco’s wit to balance Jake’s more serious take on life. But Jake also is the one person who truly understands Marco’s reluctance to join this battle. When Marco says he’s out,  Jake doesn’t pressure him or judge him for this decision. Jake is also the only Animorph who had met Marco’s mother before, and thus the only one to realize who Visser One truly is. At the end of the story, Marco makes it clear that this is a secret he is not willing to share right now, and Jake respects this decision as well.

Xena, Warriar Princess: We get another example of why as badass as Rachel’s elephant morph is, it’s really not the best battle morph she could have picked. Size issues are always posing a problem for her, and we’ve had one too many overly graphic scenes of her trying to frantically demorph while fleeing from the Yeerks, this time in cramped alien spaceship hallways. I know that she gets an even more awesome morph soon, and I can’t wait until then! Rachel also still clearly remembers her experiences in the Chapman house from book two and is very adamant that however the Animorphs choose to infiltrate the basement this time, there can be no chance that they will be caught and risk Melissa’s life again. It’s a nice little callback to Rachel’s story and to the fact that loyalty is such a strong motivator for her character.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias actually ends up in the action for the last bit of this story which is a nice change. In the last book he was largely absent due to the obvious fact that hawks don’t do water. But here he gets to join in all the kidnapping fun and even take a few swipes at Yeerks during their escape on the home ship.

Peace, Love, and Animals: I feel like Cassie came up with the ant plan. And right there, Cassie has failed in her one and only duty! Knowing the animal facts! Come on, Cassie, you had to know this was a terrible idea!!

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is comedy gold, guys. I have very clear memories of reading and cracking up at this  mall scene (and I’m sure others) where Ax goes nuts for Cinnabons. And it was just as hilarious now. There’s some bit where I’m pretty sure that it is established that Ax is so far gone in his love of taste that not only is he licking other people’s used plates, but even eating cigarette butts. It’s all very humorous. On a more serious note, Ax provides a lens that highlights just how far the Animorphs have already come. They’re kids, yes, but at this point they’ve seen many battles, and when compared to Ax, they’re pros. He’s much quicker to give in to Yeerk goading and has a bad tendency to want to rush to his death for the sake of “honor.” At this point, the Animorphs know that a good retreat is never in conflict with honor when the other option is a pointless death. Ax also serves as good mouthpiece for the group with the Yeerks, as he is the only true Andalite among them and adds credence to their disguise as an entire group of Andalite warriors.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The whole ant scene. All of it. You’ve got the initial existential horror when Marco and Co. completely lose themselves in the ant mind. He describes it as literally forgetting that Marco exists at all. He just wasn’t there. So that’s horrifying. And then, even worse, they get into a fight with another ant colony and start getting eaten/torn apart alive, and they only escape by demorphing out of the ground. Marco mentions finding a severed ant head still attached to his waist when he showers later. Which….just….no.

Couples Watch!: Marco comments that Jake and Cassie are sort of together…or something…He notices them giving each other sappy looks, and such. As the one Animorph (not including Ax, which…obviously) not involved in a romantic pair, it was fun reading his narrative eye-rolls at the whole thing.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I really liked the introduction of all the Yeerk politics. It adds depths to them both as villains and as a unique civilization that has its own problems outside of taking over the universe. Also, the fact that Visser One openly mocks Visser Three to his face on his massive ignorance of the planet he is charged with conquering is everything.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scenes of Marco’s dad, just sitting in a dark living room staring at the TV. And then the whole revelation at the end about his Mom. And not just the obvious, that she’s a Controller. But now Marco has to question all of his memories. When did she become a Controller? A month before she disappeared? A year? When was the last time his true mother was even part of his life?? All the cries.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, kind of the whole thing, right? But I have to say, the idea to hide as lobsters in a lobster tank from the Controllers chasing them (they spotted Ax trying to demorph in a state of panic in the mall, another example of Ax being new to this fight and cracking under pressure) seems particularly flawed. I’m not sure what the better option was, but when you find yourself having to demorph in someone’s boiling pot of water in their kitchen, you know something went very wrong somewhere along the line.

Favorite Quote:

This one cuz I love Rachel and this seems true:

“I swear that, if she could, Rachel would be wearing a suit of armor and swinging a sword. And it would be a fashionable suit of armor, and she would look great in it.” ~ Marco

This one cuz it highlights Ax’s newbie issues:

“The higher the danger, the higher the honor.” ~ Ax

And this one because it quintessential Marco:

“We’re mostly against the idea of getting killed.” ~ Marco,

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

The scorecard goes unchanged in this one. Yeerk political infighting was all that saved this from being a “Game Over” for our favorite morphing teens. But the Yeerks didn’t exactly show off their best face either. Though it does prove that sticking it to Visser Three really IS the best thing ever. Even better than potentially kidnapping the supposed Andalite warriors who are the only thing keeping the Yeerks from fully conquering Earth. So…there’s that.

Rating: Marco is great fun, though his sads are for real, folks.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Book Club Review: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”

16054808We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

In this cross between “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “A Night in the Museum,” Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am a pretty big fan of both “The Westing Game” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, so when our book club compatriot Katie picked “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”, I was pretty interested. The comparisons were made pretty starkly between this book and those classics, so I went in with highish, if not tentative, hopes. BIG SHOES TO FILL, MR. LEMONCELLO!

Overall, I did basically like this book, though most of that is probably because I’m a librarian and this book reads like a Valentine to the profession. While the characters themselves are fairly stock and two dimensional (Kyle is the imperfect but charming protagonist, Mr. Lemoncello is basically Willy Wonka, Charles is the priggish and snooty nemesis, etc), the little literary touches are great. There are multiple books referenced in this story, many more than I would have expected for the target audience of this book (middle grade and elementary school age), but I liked that Grabenstein was referencing Fyodor Dostoyevsky along with Arthur Conan Doyle. This book is filled with many puzzles and riddles as well, seeing as Mr. Lemoncello is an expert game maker, whose newest game is figuring out how to escape from the new library in town. But not only are the clues distributed in puzzles and riddles, to even get to the puzzles and riddles the characters have to utilize the library and its resources! What did I say about a Valentine to my profession???? From teaching about the Dewey Decimal system to the different functions of the public library, this is a pretty good introduction about how kids, inside and outside the story alike, can use the library to get the information they’re looking for.

This was a quick read that I was able to get through in an afternoon. I definitely see how kids would find it a fun read, but I do kind of wonder how well it would crossover to adults if they aren’t library-oriented. And while it’s true that there doesn’t have to be crossover from kid’s books to adult books, I always think it’s nice when a story can be appealing to all ages. I think that sometimes it did feel less like an homage to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Westing Game,” and teetered towards just kind of copying it and its themes. However, I did like that in this book teamwork and friendship definitely play more prevalent themes than they do in the previous books. I like that asking for help and partnership wasn’t derided or dismissed.

Overall I found this to be a fun and quick read, and I enjoyed it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve had a bit of a hard time knowing how to start this review or really work out what I think about this book. On one had, there’s no denying the appeal as a librarian to a book that is essentially a massive love letter to the profession. And for middle graders, the puzzles, games, and adventures are sure to please. But…I was still a bit “so so” on the book overall, and I think maybe it’s a case of what Kate said, this book not being written for adults and perhaps not crossing over as well as others of its kind. But maybe it’s also a bit of “author’s agenda is showing?”

If I wanted a guide to the wonders of the library in novel format, I wouldn’t look any further than this book. As an introduction to the library and to all the different ways a library can be a marvelous place for learning, for fun, and for so many others things, this book is spot on. But it’s almost too spot on. If that was the book’s goal, essentially to just be something that public libraries hand out to get kids interested in the library, than sure. But the novel portion of it seemed to be lacking, in my opinion.

Most of the children characters felt too much like stock characters with very little development or character growth. And the plot/adventures were a bit too close to set up of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And in the midst of all the library love, the narrative sometimes seemed to take a nose dive into the twee.

So, this all sounds pretty negative, and I don’t really mean it that way. For a middle grade reader, I’m sure this book would be a massive hit. And as a librarian, I can never complain about finding a good novel to brainwash the kiddies into loving the library as much as I do. But as an adult reader and book critic, this one was a bit too sugary sweet for me and the “teach kids about the library” agenda was a bit too on the nose.

I did enjoy all the book name dropping, as Kate mentioned as well, and I applaud the author for bringing in titles/authors that most middle graders will need to follow up on on their own. Hopefully using the newly discovered wonder that is the library!

Kate’s Rating 7: A fun and quick read that promotes librarianship. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s cute for what it is.

Serena’s Rating 6: Same. A fun, quick read that is in love with the library. But it didn’t translate as well for me, as an adult reader.

Book Club Questions:

1.) This book has several similarities to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Does it stand on its own, in your opinion?

2.) This book works very hard to teach children about the library. Of all the lessons, what do you think the book most successfully taught kids who are reading this book?

3.) What were a few of your favorite book references? What other works would you have included?

4.) Is there any character growth you would have liked to see added to any of the characters?

5.) This book is a hit with young readers. But as Kate and I have expressed, more of a challenge for older readers. Is there a way to make this more appealing for adults? Should this even be a concern?

The author has also provided this great reading guide for the book for kids, so if you read this with a group of children, this is a really fun, helpful resource! Here it is!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books about Books and Libraries”, and “The Games We Play”.

Find “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” at your library using WorldCat!

The Next Book Club Book Is “Beauty” by Robin McKinley

The Great Animorphs Re-Read:#4 “The Message”

366784Animorphs #4: “The Message”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It all started with the dreams. But Cassie didn’t pay much attention to them. She and her friends had all been having weird dreams since they’d first learned to morph. Maybe it was just some crazy side effect.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Cassie and Tobias have been having strange dreams of the ocean. And when the Animorphs begin to see signs that the Yeerks, too, are showing interest in a specific part of the ocean, they decide they’d better check it out. They morph dolphins, and with the help of their whale friend, they discover a piece of the Andalite home ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And even more importantly, there’s an Andalite on board, but not the adult warrior who could lead their team that they’d been hoping for, but a kid, Elfangor’s little brother, Ax. Many ocean hi-jinks ensue including another desperate escape from Visser Three. This book is important because it introduces Ax for the first time, a main character who will be part of the Animorphs team going forward. I always forget how much he brings to the tone of the books and how much is missing in the first three with his absence. But he’s finally arrived! Yay!

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is our first book from Cassie’s perspective. And while Cassie isn’t one of my favorite characters in the series (in all honesty, usually her books are my least favorite), she does get one of the best books of the series. I liked this book so much that as a kid I picked it for a bookclub book (we had a family bookclub with another family and everyone got to pick a book, and I picked this one!)

As Cassie’s little section title implies, most of what we get from her in other books has to do with her pacifist take on the war and her role as the one with the animal connection. Diving into her viewpoint, we get a lot on both of these aspects of her personality. She struggles when she finds herself in a decision maker/leadership role in this book as one of only two Animorphs dreaming of Andalites; she’s clearly much more comfortable as the supporter of the group. But she does rise to the occasion which speaks well of her ability to do what needs to be done to save her friends and other creatures, even if it goes against her own nature.

Secondly, because the morph they use in this book is dolphins, we hear a lot about Cassie’s perspectives on animals. Specifically, here she is concerned that the Animorphs are not any better than the Yeerks in that a large portion of morphing has to do with taming the wild mind of the animal they become, so is it the same, especially when the animal is very intelligent, like dolphins? While I’m impressed that this short little book in this ridiculous sci fi series is tackling deeper issues like this, this same dilemma of Cassie’s is what makes her frustrating for me as a character. There seem to be large holes in her reasoning here, in that they are not taking over the minds of animals that exist independently of the Animorphs themselves. The morphed body is her own body and it does not exist on its own.

Further, we’ve been getting into each Animorph’s personal reason for fighting in each of their books. And here she finds her motivation after learning from Ax that the Yeerks not only arrive on a planet to take over the minds of the primary sentient species, but that they also terraform each planet to resemble their barren home world, destroying the natural flora and fauna. Yes, it’s horrifying what the Yeerks have planned for Earth itself, but it makes me question Cassie that her tipping point was its destruction not, say, the human race being killed and enslaved.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a nice little scene with Cassie that reminds us all why he’s such a great leader. She’s in the midst of a mini crisis about having to make decisions for the group, and we get some lovely thoughts from Jake about the way he handles this same pressure constantly. While he is not the decision maker behind this adventure, he is a leader all the same, providing the support needed for a teammate who is struggling. It’s these behind-the-scenes moments of strength and support that really show why Jake is such a natural leader.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s not up to much, though it is interesting hearing about Rachel and Cassie’s friendship from Cassie’s perspective. They’re such oddball best friends, but it is clear how they balance each other out. Rachel has the confidence to challenge Cassie and get her moving when she could get stuck over-thinking every decision. But Cassie also brings reserve and caution to Rachel’s impulsiveness.

A Hawk’s Life: While we learn that the Animorph’s believe that Cassie is having these dreams due to her morphing powers (that she is so much better at it and thus more closely connected to Andalites in general), Tobias’s connection seems to only be that he had a deeper connection with Elfangor before he died (foreshadowing!!) Poor Tobias once again gets left out of much of the action due to the obvious: hawks don’t do water.

The Comic Relief: Poor Marco has a rough time, but we’ll get to that in “Body Horror”…But the fact that he can’t swim is a big problem in a book that involves the ocean. His close calls in this book only further cement his wariness about his future involvement in Animorphs missions. He’s still worried about leaving his father alone. But he does concede that after watching Elfangor heroically die trying to distract Visser Three from them, if there is an Andalite in need, he’ll be there. 

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Yay, Ax is here! We only get a bit of him when he shows up in the final third of the book. But his introduction does bring in a bunch of recurring things that will show up in later books. First, the running gag that he calls Jake “Prince Jake” since that is how Andalites address their war leaders. Second, his wealth of information on the Yeerks and space history. And third, the fact that he creates a new morph by combining the DNA of all of the Animorphs. It’s super wacky. It’s like his morph is their group-child or something.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco gets bit in half by a shark! Marco gets bit in half by a shark! It’s as gross as it sounds. As dolphins, the group sees a whale being attacked by sharks and get into a scrap saving it that results in the horrifying image of Marco floating in the ocean with his dolphin tale only hanging on by a few threads of skin. But it does present an important concept about morphing going forward: any wounds that they get while in morph are healed when they de-morph/re-morph since it is all dependent on DNA which isn’t affected by this type of physical damage. Also, the Animorphs discover that the whales can sort of kind of speak? And the whale saves Marco here and the whole group later on.

Couples Watch!: Man, I really forgot how blatant she makes these couples right off the bat! While Cassie and Jake aren’t my favorite couple, they do have several very sweet moments together, including the scene I described earlier where Jake is boosting up Cassie’s confidence. They also have some nice “shared looks” and all of that.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There’s a scene that’s described here that we never see but I want it now! Apparently, due to his Andalite host body, Visser Three is also having these weird dreams and they’re making him grumpy. So much so that at one point he shoves a Hork-Bajir out of an airlock when he disturbs him. So essentially he’s like Darth Vadar, and you’re going to get Force strangled or shoved out airlocks at any moment if you catch him at the wrong moment.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Poor Ax! The guy’s been stuck at the bottom of the ocean for a month or so now and then when people finally show up to save him he learns that his brother is dead. Stuck on a lonely planet as the only one of his kind, forced into a war he’s not prepared for with a bunch of kids who he doesn’t know and are a different species. Sad times.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It turns out that the Andalite ship is wrecked out in the ocean quite a ways from the shore. So far, in fact, that one 2-hour dolphin morph won’t get them there. So they decide to first morph seagulls (this is a hilarious morph, by the way, in that they all become food obsessed while in it).

giphy2
(source)

Then they scout out a ship heading in the general direction they want to go and hop on board, de-moprhing to human and hiding out. Then when they get nearer, they jump off the side (forgetting somehow that Marco can’t swim, so he has to half morph a dolphin then get tossed over). Then swim the rest of the way as dolphins. Which…already this is a bad plan. But the biggest problem is HOW ARE THEY PLANNING ON GETTING BACK?? There’s no discussion of this and as it turns out, they end up needing to be rescued by the whale who carries them a large portion of the way back. Pure luck.

Favorite Quote:

Rachel: “First we morph into something like a seagull.”
Marco: “I hate plans that begin with the words ‘first we morph.'”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

Another win for the Animorphs! Managing to swipe Ax out from under the Yeerks’ noses counts as a major win for the team. While they didn’t hurt the Yeerks directly, they gained a friend, comrade, and a team member who knows a whole heck of a lot more about the Yeerks and space history than any of them do! Currently the Animorphs are winning the scorecard, let’s see how long this lasts!

Rating: One of my favorite books that introduces our last main character, Ax!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!