If you are a Millennial who went to school in the late 90's and early 00's, chances are you probably remember the Animorph books. Animorphs was a science fiction young adult book series written by Katherine Applegate and her husband Michael Grant and published by Scholastic from June 1996 to May 2001.
The books were about five teenagers who take a shortcut through a construction site one day after school and end up meeting an alien called Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul. Elfangor is part of a race called the Andalites. He explains that he is a war prince among his people and that the Andalites have been fighting a war against a parasitic race of aliens called the Yeerks who have been spreading across the galaxy invading planets and taking over people as hosts.
Elfangor explains that the Yeerks have made it to Earth and have been secretly taking over people's bodies and using them as hosts. He warns the kids that the Yeerks will not stop until they've taken every person on Earth as a host and can claim the planet as their own. He gives the kids a weapon to fight the Yeerks with called morphing.
Morphing allows the kids to be able to absorb the DNA of other living creatures and take their form but only for 2 hours. If they go past the 2-hour time limit they will be stuck in that shape forever. The other risk of morphing is that the animal's natural instincts can sometimes overpower their human brains. The kids decide to use their powers to fight back against the Yeerk invasion of Earth as a small guerrilla force.
They call themselves the Animorphs (which is short for animal morpher).
Animorphs spanned 54 books and 10 companion books and was adapted into a television series for kids which ran from 1998 to 1999. The Animorphs consisted of Jake (the leader), Marco (the comedic relief), Rachel (the most blood-thirsty), Cassie (the least violent), and Tobias (who becomes trapped in a re -tailed hawk morph) and Ax (the little brother of Elfangor and the only Andalite left on Earth helping the Animorphs in their fight against the Yeerks). Each of the main characters take a turn narrating each of the books and the front covers featured one of them morphing into an animal. The main themes of the books are war, morality, violence, genocide, innocence, human rights, kindness, understanding and identity.
I am 34 years old. Like many people my age, I grew up reading and enjoying these books. Last year I decided to re-visit them as an adult. I was a bit apprehensive about returning to the world of the Animorphs. Would I be able to enjoy the books as an adult? Was it really a good idea to return to something I liked as a kid and re-evaluate it through the eyes of a much more critical adult? To my surprise, I loved the books. I got pulled right back into them. The writing style is made for teens and is very juvenile and the books are pretty outdated now, but that didn't bother me. The story and the characters was what pulled me back in. Oh and nostalgia of course.
The thing I really like about Animorphs as an adult is how the main cast of characters (who at the start of the series are somewhere between 12 and 13 years old) are able to handle the frightening situation that they are in without the help of adults.
When I was a kid there was no 24-hour news cycle and helicopter parenting was not much of a thing. Kids biked places on their own, walked themselves to school and back again, were left at home on their own, waited in cars by themselves and hung out at shopping centres with their friends after school. Mobile phones were not that common, social media hadn't been invented yet, and most adults had no idea how to send an email. We had a lot of freedom. It was great.
Things are pretty different today. Kids don't have the same amount of freedom that we had as kids. The parents of today think that kids need constant supervision. Our kids are babied and sheltered and kept from doing things on their own.
When I re-read Animorphs as an adult it really struck me for the first time just how young the characters all were. Imagine you are a kid and you knew that the world was being invaded by aliens but you can't tell a single soul because you didn't know who you could trust. How horrifying! But somehow, the Animorphs keep it together.
One thing that really impressed me about these books was the character development. Jake, the leader of the Animorphs, starts off as a scared little kid who is reluctant to lead the group and to make decisions for everyone else. As time passes, he grows into the role and becomes more confident, mature and forceful. The reader gets to see him grow up and go from a boy to a battle-hardened warrior.
Cassie is another fascinating character in the group. Gentle and peaceful, Cassie is the most reluctant in the group to kill. Her morals force her to make a lot of difficult decisions throughout the series, which at times threaten her friendships with the others. I think Cassie is the bravest in the group because she manages to hold onto her humanity throughout the books in the face of horrible violence.
When I was re-reading Animorphs I sometimes forgot how young the characters were supposed to be. As adults, we want to shelter and protect our kids from harm. But what if by doing that we're doing more harm than good? The Animorph books are just fiction but I think there is an important message buried in there and that is not to underestimate our kids and what they're capable of achieving on their own.