Hello, friends! This glorious day is finally upon us. Today is the day The Midnight Garden discusses Animorphs! We hope you were able to join us in reading Books 1-3. It’s such a lovely sci-fi series full of action, aliens, a diverse truly bad ass cast of kid characters, and spades emotional depth. All three of us ended up loving them; we hope you did as well!
Let’s dive in!
Layla: This was delightful and I wish I’d been reading these alongside Goosebumps when I was a baby! There’s so much reading I missed out on! On the bright side, I’m sure my loss was the family dog’s gain; she probably wouldn’t have appreciated my attempts to acquire her DNA.
Wendy: I never read these either, but man oh man, would I have been all over them as a kid. As I was reading book one, I realized I was actually tensing up because I was so engrossed with what was happening. Talk about action-packed! And ALIENS. Scary-ass aliens. There’s a sense of menace and race-against-the-clock urgency established right from the very first chapter.
Layla: I was really struck by the similarities between good Animorph-morphing and bad Yeerk infestation. As soon as the kids morph into different creatures, there’s always that brief moment of struggle between their minds and the mind of the animal they’re morphing into, and there are moments when the animal seems to fight back? (The Visitor: “Quite suddenly the shrew mind lost the battle for control. It was like a switch had been flipped.”) Or there’s at least a negotiation between human mind / animal morph (Like when Rachel morphs into a cat and she just lets the cat mind hang out, too, telling the cat brain that Chapman is prey.)
Kim: It’s interesting that you make this comparison because one of the themes of the series as it goes on is the blurring of the line between “good and evil” and what makes humans any better than the Yeerks. Book #19 in particular is absolutely groundbreaking and could essentially also be called My First Mindfuck, because damn. At first, this is all fairly straightforward (we’re just some kids battling the alien bad guys, yeah!) As things go on the situation becomes more complex. It’s wonderful!
Wendy: I love that moment of struggle–it puts you in their place with a fantastic sense of immediacy. Many of the themes in this series are similar to those explored in Star Trek and its iterations, particularly TNG. I love that it’s young kids who hold the fate of the world in their hands, though, and it definitely feels like its own thing.
Holy shit, I just read the wiki for that book, too. :-O
Layla: It’s interesting because it seems like there’s a similarity there with Yeerk-infestation; Jake can see Tom trying to fight Yeerk control; both of the Chapmans also fight and break through at some point. I mean, I know the two things are different (the animorphs are turning into the creatures whose mind fights them, and they’re not taking over random animal bodies), but it’s interesting that the way the Animorphs fight back is similar.
I was interested in how the rules for morphing are defined as the novels progress. And I have so many questions! I want a companion guide to morphing or something to answer them. For example, why can’t they morph into something that’s dead? We’re told that it doesn’t matter if an animal is injured; why is death any different? Their DNA is still there to grab, no? Can they not do it because it would be too creepy?
Kim: Heh. I have no understanding of the actual workings of DNA and biology but I imagine when something’s dead that information is deteriorating? Organisms start decaying the instant of death so I guess it’d have something to do with that
Wendy: Yeah, I would like to see them doing research or talking to an alien at some point so we can learn more about the principles behind the morphing process. How it’s portrayed is relatively realistic at this point, given their age, but at some point I’d assume/guess they’ll start asking more questions and doing more tests.
I like Kim’s theories on the biology. I also wonder on the less sciency side, if it has something to do with the animal’s consciousness, since they are both duelling entities within the same animal body when the kids morph into them? Like, they wouldn’t know how to inhabit that body and use their instincts? I dunno. We have to corner Katherine Applegate and question her.
Layla: Science! Every day a school day.
I loved the way there’s so much horror around being certain animals. Or about being too much of an animal, even when you’re morphed, and how much eating, for example, (what you eat, how you eat) is one of the boundaries between human / animal the book focuses on. (Like when anole!Jake eats a spider or when hawk!Tobias tears into some small critters! & that for Tobias is the moment that sends him into a tailspin.)
Wendy: Yeah, Rachel morphing into a shrew was off-putting. And the eating of maggots, blech.
Layla: Marco’s mom HAS to be a Yeerk, right? I feel like this is as inevitable as Tobias and Rachel’s love connection. Her body is missing and we know the Yeerks have been around for a bit and oh man, poor Marco.
Kim: I have nothing to say about that. :) But there are plenty of surprises to go around with Animorph family members! I can say that much.
Layla: I am so grossed out by the ear slugs. I want to sleep with cotton balls in my ears and keep them Yeerk-free.
Kim: Me too but that’s part of the appeal. I remember being equally thrilled by the strange fascination and horror of the situation. They were the first books I ever read with any sort of parasitic takeover/body horror and I loved it because I’m just a creepy creeperson like that.
Wendy: I was actually surprised by the visceral punch of some of the imagery. These books do not shy away from violence or shudder-inducing moments, although it’s not over the top at all.
Kim: I am so thrilled, over the moon really, that you guys had such positive reactions to these books! I was so nervous what you’d think going into them as first time readers. For me, these books were a foundational experience and are actually what got me into science fiction in the first place. I have the fondest memories of buying them at the Scholastic book fair (best week of the yeaaarrrrr) and just generally being unable to wait to get my hands on the next installment. Up until the point I read them when I was 10 I had only ever read contemporary and historical fiction. Everything about these books was so fresh and exciting and new. The aforementioned are lovely books but aren’t really known for their action, excitement and plot twists. As an adult I can see it coming from a mile away but I remember first reading The Invasion and being absolutely shocked that Tom was a Controller. And when the first book ends and we find out Tobias is stuck as a hawk? I remember my heart twinging and that was it. I was in this one for the long haul.
Wendy: Aw, Kim! <3 I admit, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this (I’m always suspicious of popular series, sue me), but I love it! I can see how discovering this would jolt you into a love of science fiction and action and romance and angst. These came along right after I stopped reading newly published middle grade as much, but I always hungered for this type of thing, too, and never got much of it. But I saw that Layla literally just added one such book to her TBR list that I adored as a kid–The Girl with the Silver Eyes! Kids with telekinesis and government agents hunting them down. I totally want to do that one as a readalong sometime. It was a Scholastic Book Fair book for me, too. I wonder how many kids have become avid readers in part because of Scholastic and their monthly flyers! So much love for them.
Layla: I want to re-read that! I added it to my GR because I thought about it for the first time in years and was like, “Hey, note to self that this book exists in the world.” I haven’t read it since I was a kid but I remember loving it.
Layla: SCHOLASTIC BOOK FAIR YES! (It’s also where I got my first Harry Potter book, as well as other childhood favorites, including a book about killer bees and another book about the Bubonic Plague.)
I was surprised / impressed by the Tobias!hawk storyline. I didn’t think there were going to be consequences! and/or thought there would be a magical fix to Tobias’s hawkness. But no. Now he’s a hawk. (For at least three books.) Anyway, it’s heart-breaking
Wendy: I was stunned when Tobias was stuck as a hawk at the end of the first book, but by the end of book three I was practically beside myself with sadness for his plight. Kim, you were so right to have us read the first three books for this readalong–I enjoyed the first two, but it’s number three that makes me definitely continue reading the rest of the series.
Kim: Yeah, the third book is when this series starts to really feel like the Animorphs that it later becomes. This is a super long series but worth every second spent with it. What starts out as a fairly straightforward sci-fi/paranormal story about a bunch of kids who find themselves with superpowers and go around battling aliens (lols- fairly straightforward!) actually becomes a quite serious examination on the costs of war, morality, ethics, and genocide. There is much heartbreak and devastation and the series does not end without considerable sacrifice. I loved that these books never talked down to young readers and presented all of this serious subject matter in a way that naturally flowed with the story and was never overhanded in its messaging.
I super love that of the five core characters we have two girls (who don’t take any shit) and two POC. A demand for diversity in kidlit has been in the spotlight so much this year (and deservedly so). Animorphs was doing it in 1996 and effortlessly.
Wendy: The diversity focus has been huge this year, it’s kind of overwhelming. The education and awareness are certainly important, but I also sincerely appreciate the authors and publishers who have been giving us characters from different walks of life all along. In this book, ethnicity is a non-issue–it’s just a fact of life.
Layla: Yes! Rachel and Cassie are wonderful. I, er, kind of ship them. It’s from that first moment where Cassie is quailing against Rachel’s shoulder or something. They are the Xena/Gabrielle of these books for me.
Kim: I also loved that the characterization of all kids shines through so clearly in the opening scenes. They all have clearly defined personalities and I love them all for being exactly who they are flaws and all. (Though let’s be honest, I love Tobias more than the others because OBVIOUSLY)
I’m also a big fan of the shipping to be had here. Jake’s crush on Cassie is adorable. And Rachel and Tobias? Please. She had a picture of him handy. Tobias “doesn’t know why” he’s drawn to Rachel for comfort. Now he’s a hawk forever. All my cries. Seriously, just give me a tragic/doomed couple and I’ll ship the hell out of it.
Layla: I am surprised Jake does not use the word “LIKE-like” to describe his feelings about Cassie. Re: Rachel – in my mind she draws the picture out from underneath her pillow and is like “oh nm idk how this got there, BUT ANYWAY.”
Kim: That is absolutely what happened. Let’s be honest here.
Layla: It is kind of crazy to me how brave and badass everyone is. You see an alien and (1) don’t run away screaming but (2) receive an intergalactic history lesson and (3) then this alien is like “hey want to become a cat” and you’re like YEAH DO IT. I would not have made it past seeing an alien, for reals. The books are so energetic! They pack a lot of action into … less than 200 pages a pop? (i.e., We are running for our lives from aliens / there are also tigers to contend with / now we’re visiting a secret lair / oh my god Tobias is a bird forever now.)
The animal narratives are really great. They make reading these books so fun! I’m impressed at how skillfully this is done over the course of the books, because not only does the author have to develop character, but she has to make that characterization stay consistent when the teens’ morph into different species (as well as develop different voices for different animals, woah).
Wendy: The cat and dog POVs are definitely my favorites, and then later on the hawk’s. There’s both research and thought that went into these portrayals, one that makes you really empathize and not just imagine what it’s like to become an animal.
Layla: All of Tobias’s story makes me the saddest.
Also also, of course a hellmouth is underneath the school. OF COURSE. Bahaha!
Kim: I adore all of these kids. All of them. I love how even when they seem to not be badass, for instance Marco wanting nothing to do with this intergalactic alien war, Cassie steps up to defend him and offer a new perspective. Each one of them brings strengths and flaws that play magnificently off of each other and each is an integral part of the team.
I love the animal narratives so much! I was surprised this time, around since I really didn’t remember much of the animal narratives, how much they struggle with control over the animal forms. I’m sure Katherine Applegate had a lot of fun researching all of these species to write about! And yes, mad props to the author for balancing this all so well.
A thing we should never do is get me going on about Tobias. But more on that under the Book 3 section. Oh but here’s a quick snippet to make your heart sad:
Still Tobias hesitated. <I hate changing back. It’s like going back into a prison or something. I hate it when I don’t have wings.>
“Tobias, you can always return to your hawk morph later,” Rachel reassured him. ‘Now, come on, both of you. I’ll look the other way so your delicate boy modesty isn’t offfended.”
Things I love about this: 1. Tobias feels. 2. Rachel reassuring him. 3. Rachel being sassy.
I do also want to mention how sad/horrifying the scene at the end is where they’re trying to rescue the humans in the cage at the Yeerk pool. Just watching how helpless those people are and then the immediate return to placid, eerie calm when they’ve been Yeerkified again…*shudder*
Layla: I love how much everyone acknowledges that cats would basically be the best host bodies for EVIL SPACE ALIENS to take over. (Visser Three: “Claws and teeth and ferocity mixed with the subtlety to manipulate creatures larger than itself. A worthy creature.”)
Wendy: Cats are clearly the best choice because they’re slinky and sneaky and airily confident they’re always where they belong, so you’d never notice if one wandered into your super secret meeting place and disdainfully stared you down.
Layla: As an unabashed cat lover, I really like how well this book captures cats. (Insofar as cats can be captured, which they can’t, because they’re the best.) When Rachel becomes Fluffer McKitty: “It’s like … You know those old cowboy movies with Clint Eastwood? He’s a gunslinger and he walks into the saloon and everyone kind of gets out of his way? And how he’s not really looking for trouble, but you’d better not make him mad? That’s what it’s like. It’s like I’m Clint Eastwood.” Best description of cats ever!
Kim: I loved the cat portions! Fluffer McKitty and Rachel’s personalities really meshed well, I thought. They’re both really fierce and pretty much don’t really give a fuck. I thought this one was the weakest of the first three storywise, but I really do like Rachel and I like that she, a girl, of all the Animorphs is the most violent and eager for battle. You can’t really tell yet from this volume but as time goes on Rachel is practically unsettling in how much she likes to fight and be the warrior. It’s not really a great thing to be, but I just love that she gets to be a fully fleshed out and very flawed female character (in science fiction!!). She does have a heart, though, as we see with her gentle interactions with Tobias and how much she cares about Melissa. And especially when she uncovers why Melissa’s been so upset, what with her parents being aliens now and all. I feel the sympathy pouring off of her.
Also, she straight up gets street harassed in this book and she does not suffer that shit at all. This went completely over my head as a kid. She also calls out Marco for calling a girl a “skank.” Again, this went completely over my head as a kid but I love that it’s included here. Fight that patriarchy, Rachel!
Storywise, I do want to say that I had a lot of feels re: Melissa’s parents. So many feelings over their plight. I also like the spotlight on people who surrendered to Yeerk control willingly. Mr. Chapman’s sacrifice to keep Melissa safe is one to tug at the heartstrings for sure. What happened to Mrs. Chapman that she would surrender herself completely to the control of another being? (God, I just saw the potential for an adult version of these books and it was haunting.)
Wendy: There aren’t many adults in this series so far, but they’re portrayed sympathetically. A lot of books would go the easy route and make the adults too arrogant to listen to kids (so they have to save the day, blah blah), too dumb to notice what’s going on, too busy to care about their daughter, etc. But the adults are so great here–the kids are the focus of the story, but you see appropriate actions from their parents and mentors.
Kim: Also also, I forget the name of Mr. Chapman’s yeerk but it being sympathetic to Fluffer McKitty and not wanting to kill him marks the first time I felt any sort of “like” toward a yeerk. Not the last time.
Layla: “What happened to Mrs. Chapman …” This is a question that you could answer for us in FANFIC!
Wendy: THIS BOOK. <3 You cannot see my face, but as I am typing this, my face is doing the same thing the emoji is doing with the furrowed brown and down-turned mouth. I’m so anxious for him! Poor thing. I enjoyed the first two books, but I am now a devoted fan of the series because of the complexity and maturity and painful sadness of Tobias’ situation.
Layla: So many feels about Tobias and also the dead lady hawk. Crying forever. This book was maybe my favorite of the lot. I think in part it’s because I liked Tobias’s narrative voice – I’m always super intrigued by questions around what makes us human, and this book understandably does a lot of that – but also because it’s kind of bleak in places. There was a moment at the end of this book where I wondered if they were all going to make it, which is weird because, hello, they have plot-protection-shielding and I *knew* that, but all the same. I was tempted to check the wiki to see if we got a fresh batch of Animorphs.
Also, the “let’s all be fish and infiltrate a spaceship” was obviously a terrible idea, you guys. COME ON. It’s like those kids have never seen a heist movie! You’ve got to scope out the joint first!
Kim: Let’s all have a goddamn meltdown about Tobias now. But yeah, this book is a prime example of why you don’t give 11 year olds free reign of advanced alien technology and leave them alone to fight the intergalactic alien war. Exhibit A.
Wendy: Um, I would just like to point out that these grade school kids handle an alien invasion better than the teenagers did in Alienated. <.<
Kim: And this book is often incredibly bleak. The series itself is often dark and complex and generally not full of sunshine and it’s why I love it. There are some real heavy examinations of what it means to be human and I loved how much my heart hurt by Tobias’ answer to that question in this book. That he knew he was human because he was sad over the death of “ladyfriend!hawk” which is something a hawk would never be. Man, I am super glad I’m not a person trapped in an animal body!
Also, slightly spoilerish for the series ending so I’m putting it behind tags View Spoiler »this scene is a major foreshadowing of the end of the series. When Tobias morphs human specifically so that he can cry over something I won’t mention in case any newbies click this accidentally. JUST PUNCH ME IN THE HEART WHY DONT YOU, KATHERINE APPLEGATE. « Hide Spoiler
Layla: And ladyfriend!hawk! flying towards the sky where she thought she would be safe. ::SNIFF:: That may have been the saddest moment of Book 3 for me. (Even more than Tobias’s “I’M A MONSTER” moment(s)). I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I was also strangely moved by Jake’s desire to be a good dog and the crushing misery he experiences when he’s told he’s a bad dog in morph.
Wendy: Oh my gosh, the dog POV was so great. The undiluted joy and excitement of EVERYTHING contrasted with his sad doggy face when he’s scolded! That one made me laugh a lot, in pleasure and in sympathy.
Kim: My saddest moments are the Rachel x Tobias angst because at the end of the day I am nothing but a shipper. But yeah, this is my favorite of the first three (ALL TOBIAS BOOKS ARE MY FAVORITE ONES). I just love him. He’s such a sweet, gentle, good person who has just had a shit life. And then he gets trapped as a bird. IT GETS EVEN MORE SHIT AND I AM NOT OKAY. I literally just opened up to one of my bookmarks (It’s the scene where Tobias tells Rachel he doesn’t remember what he looked like and he says that Rachel is a person “with strength that runs all the way through her”) and I got all teary. I cannot with this book, you guys. I cannot.
Layla: Five stars! I’m a fan and kind of want to keep reading just to see what animals they turn into next. (I am bummed by the whole “it has to be alive” thing because what if you could be a dinosaur? or like a megalodon? For spy purposes it would be perfect! No way would people believe that a velociraptor was hiding in their bushes! And then, also, everyone else would get to *see a dinosaur.* And, ok, maybe there’s no available dino DNA but I fully believe that alien technology, like life, can find a way.) Um, and if they defeat Visser Three, too, of course. Also, I am intrigued by the voice that is calling to them from somewhere in the ocean. Whale? Mermaid? Alien?
Kim: Funny you should bring up that voice, Layla! This mystery is solved in Book #4 so I guess you’ll just have to keep reading huh, huh? :D Oh man, this is so hard to say! I give the series as a whole five stars. These first three, though, averaging out I give four stars. The first two are good fun and all but are miles away from what I come to expect from the series from Book 3 on. This series was everything to me as a kid and I’m so glad to be rediscovering it now.
Wendy: As is my habit, I peeked at your ratings after I finished reading each book, Kim (Layla needs to update her GoodReads for those of us who stalk her) and our ratings line up pretty neatly for the first three books. For me, it was high 3.5 stars for #1, 3 stars for #2, and 4.5 stars for #3. BECAUSE TOBIAS. Hey, since we’re all planning on continuing, maybe we should start a discussion group on GoodReads? It’d be a good way to keep chatting about the series as we go at our leisure.
Great news! The readalong is continuing on Goodreads. We could have different discussion threads for things like people looking to find blog partners, swap books, secret santa packages, etc.! I looked into getting community hangout boards for the blog at one point, but maybe this would be easier. I know we have readers who don’t necessarily have their own blog spaces, and this might be a good place to hang out.
Anyway, I digress. I have no shame in admitting that while I want to find out what happens to everybody, I’m MOST intent upon making sure Tobias is okay.
November Readalong: Farmer Boy
(Wendy popping in. Hiii!) It is officially autumn, and it is time for quivering slices of pumpkin pie! And popcorn by the fire! And feeding little pigs that come up to your porch! <3 This month, we’re reading a huge favorite here at TMG, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy.We picked this one because it’s a standalone, perfect for the season, and one that doesn’t seem to be read as often. Also, it’s Wendy’s favorite. :D
Title: Farmer Boy
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Discussion Date: Friday, November 28th
While Laura Ingalls grows up in a little house on the western prairie, Almanzo Wilder is living on a big farm in New York State. Here Almanzo and his brother and sisters help with the summer planting and fall harvest. In winter there is wood to be chopped and great slabs of ice to be cut from the river and stored. Time for fun comes when the jolly tin peddler visits, or best of all, when the fair comes to town.
This is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved story of how her husband Almanzo grew up as a farmer boy far from the little house where Laura lived.
That description hardly does justice to this wonderful book, which is full of warm stories about a boy growing up on a farm in the 1800s. I think I’m more familiar with this book than any other I’ve read in the entirety of my life, so I can’t overstate how important it is to me–and I know it’s a special favorite of Kim’s and Layla’s and many of our readers as well. Whether you are a die-hard Laura fan or you’re discovering her for the first time, I hope you’ll join us!
December preview + Classics Challenge
— If you’d like to get a head start on December’s book, we’ll be reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. We’re having that discussion 12/19 because of the holidays, so be sure to pick that up early if you’re joining us for this cozy winter read!
— And for heaven’s sake, there are only two more months to reach your goal if you’re participating in our Classics Challenge. Remember, read 8 books and review them by the end of the year (as outlined in previous classics posts) in order to be entered to win a set of gorgeous Puffin in Bloom hardbacks. I think I’ll also have a small something for anyone who participates in the challenge as well, even if you don’t quite finish.
Well?! Are you new to series and excited for the Animorphs journey? Are you a veteran fan rediscovering the joys and heartbreaks all over again? We’re just dying to know what you thought. And if anyone is planning on continuing on with the series do let us know in the comments so that Kim can have a support group. Oh and please remember we’re only discussing the first three books below so no spoilers for the rest of the series!