Literate adults who were once child readers tend to carry warm memories of books that shaped and nourished them. They also carry memories of the books they were addicted to, the ones that worked like candy, arriving in shiny packets, promising escape to imaginary yet predictable worlds, and usually dismissed by grownups as junk. Often these junk reads were series titles.
In my long-ago youth, they were the books of Enid Blyton. I read them avidly and repeatedly, and then tossed them aside for the next one and the next. In the end, I grew disillusioned with them and with the worldview they represented, but that is another story.
My son, now a responsible adult in the world, similarly devoured a series of books that pre-dated Harry Potter. Anyone remember the Animorphs books? Today we’d call them middle grade. At the time, they were thought of as YA.
I will admit I have not thought about the Animorphs books in a good, long time, but then I came across this article in The Paris Review. And I remembered that child in my house, not yet morphed into a teenager, who devoured every one of these shiny new titles, poring over it until the covers disintegrated, at which point it was time to read the next. The pages warped from endless flipping to experience the low-tech spot illustration that “morphed” from front to back. My son subsequently created a miniature morphing flipbook of his own, transforming himself into our cat. It felt as if those morphing teens–boy to jaguar, girl to butterfly, girl to squid, boy to hawk–had moved in with us for the long haul.
In the Paris Review article, Frankie Thomas writes:
Look, I know! I know how it sounds. And yet, against all odds, the books were great. They were dark and witty and thrilling, endlessly inventive and achingly sad. They made me laugh out loud and cry myself to sleep.
Back in the waning years of the 1990’s and the start of the oughts, on the principle that I needed to know what the kid was reading, I read the first few. Even with my parental mind on, I could feel that dark-funny-aching blend. They were every bit as consumable as the Enid Blyton series titles of my youth, and they were clearly by a writer who knew what she was doing.
That writer, of course, is Katherine Applegate. She and her husband Michael Grant co-wrote the books under the name of K.A. Applegate. The series was a product (I use the word deliberately) of Scholastic Books. There were 54 of them in all. Eventually the fad passed, Harry Potter arrived on the scene and we were off on another kind of book-binge altogether–also, as it happens, courtesy of Scholastic.
But series titles count in the life of a young reader, and today I find myself thinking fondly of those cheesy 90’s covers and the friends with secret powers who battled the evil invasive Yeerks and kept my son reading voraciously.
The Yeerks of our time, alas, digging into our ears, uttering falsehoods, taking possession of our thinking, come from right here on Planet Earth. An Animorph or two might come in handy in the real world right now.