K.

A. Applegate's Animorphs series is hot, hot, hot, as throngs of young readers will attest. The popularity isn't only in print the Animorphs television show is entering its second season. For the uninitiated, these books are about the battle for Earth, between humans who have acquired the ability to morph into various animals and alien Yeerks who invade and take over human host bodies.

Applegate's latest book, Visser (ages 9Ð12), is another winner. It's the story of Visser One's trial for treason, including flashbacks of the initial forays into Earth. Fans will appreciate the background information about how it all began, as well as the added complexity favorite characters are given.

In a quest for the ideal set of hosts to parasitize, Visser One discovers Earth and lands with one assistant. They take over various humans, and along the way develop empathy and concern for their hosts and the children their host bodies bear. Visser One is accused of stalling the conquest of Earth, owing to emotional ties to the humans there. Eva, Visser One's host body during the trial, is the mother of Marco, one of the young resistance fighters. If Visser One is found guilty, the sentence is death, which will mean that Marco's mother will also die and never be reunited with her son.

Applegate's characters are fascinating. Visser One, although intent on the eventual annihilation of humans, has moments of self-doubt and despair that bring out sympathy in the reader. Eva and Marco, the main human characters, are bound by love for each other, but torn by the undeniable need to fight off the alien invasion. Their self-sacrifice and strength add a lot of thought-provoking depth to Visser.

First-time readers of the Animorphs series should probably start with an earlier book so that Eva's captivity, Marco's resistance role, and Visser One's plight will have more meaning. The Web site, www.

Animorphs.com, is a terrific starting point. Here, all the characters are introduced, the basic plots are described, and downloadable video clips are offered.

The Animorphs' world is an imaginative, exciting place for young readers, and Visser is a great example of the fun and thrills it has to offer.

Julie Anderson is a writer and mother of two.

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