December 14, 2006


Akiko: Pieces of Gax. By Mark Crilley. Delacorte Press. $9.95.

Babymouse: Rock Star. By Jennifer I. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $5.95.

The Five Ancestors, Book II: Monkey. By Jeff Stone. Yearling. $5.99.

     There is something comforting about reading the latest adventures of a series character.  Since the character and his or her basic setting are already established, the author can create all-new flights of fancy with the same material at the core, providing the enjoyment of something not yet experienced along with the stability of a known quantity.  Mark Crilley has this approach down pat in his series of books about Akiko.  The ever-plucky sixth-grade galactic explorer is not the only character to reappear in Pieces of Gax, the ninth Akiko book.  Also here, and as reliably unreliable as ever, are her traveling companions, Spuckler and Mr. Beeba, plus the irrepressible floating head called Poog, plus of course Gax – the robot whose pieces are mentioned in the title.  Like all the Akiko books, this one goes off in expectedly unexpected directions: Akiko is supposed to go on a nice, safe spacefaring vacation, but instead finds herself embroiled in an argument about who or what owns Gax after the robot literally goes to pieces.  As Akiko goes about searching for Gax’s scattered parts, Crilley treats readers to his usual helping of odd names (Moonguzzit, Bropka, Gollarondo and Thnib all appear on a single page) and amusing passing comments (the motto of the University of Malbadoo is, “When Knowledge and Ignorance meet, let them shake hands and agree to have lunch sometime!”).  Does everything end happily?  Does Akiko have a chance for heroics that help save the day?  Does Poog make the hurpleskap jump out of the water?  Do you even have to ask?

     The Babymouse books offer fantasy of a different kind.  Sister-and-brother authors Jennifer I. Holm & Matthew Holm take the everyday home and school life of their appealing title character and turn it into fun through a series of fantasies, each as strange as the last.  Yes, Babymouse dreams of being a rock star, but among the other fantasies in Babymouse: Rock Star are one in which our heroine demonstrates how awful Felicia Furrypaws is by imagining a scene in which the cat actually causes someone to die of embarrassment; one in which Babymouse is swept to Oz by a school-corridor tornado (causing her to be late for class); one in which musical notes rise up off the page and attack her; one in which she becomes the Pied Pipermouse; and more.  The basic story here – about Babymouse’s struggle to learn to play the flute – is, as usual in Babymouse books, less interesting than the outlandish byways.

     The Five Ancestors is another type of series.  Here the focus is not on a single character but on a group, whose members are moving collectively in the same direction: to find out why their temple was destroyed, what their own backgrounds are, and what they can do to put things right.  The second book in the series, Monkey – now available in paperback – focuses on Malao, whose older brother, Ying, led the destruction of Cangzhen Temple and all its warrior monks…including Grandmaster.  Malao and his four comrades – Fu, She, Hok and Long – must now continue their training in five different animal-themed styles of martial art on their own, even as their separate but intersecting paths lead them to an understanding of what happened at the temple.  The timid Malao, only 11 when the temple is destroyed, steadily gains courage throughout this book, helped by a white macaque that leads an unusually militant group of monkeys.  The events of the first book, Tiger, are recapped here, so readers can pick up Monkey and understand what happened earlier.  But the fast pace and well-presented martial-arts scenes may lead many readers to want to go through the whole story, from the first book on.

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