"Akiko on the Planet Smoo" is the kind of children's book that succeeds in doing what all my favorite books did for me when I was a kid: it transports the reader into a strange and exciting new world, and stimulates the imagination with unique characters and fantastic situations. Also like my favorite children's books, "Akiko on the Planet Smoo" keeps the reader grounded by using an "ordinary" kid (in this case, a fourth-grade Earth girl named Akiko) as the narrator. As in "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the fantasy elements in "Akiko on the Planet Smoo" become somehow more realistic when seen through the eyes of someone who's used to a normal life on planet Earth. The author, Mark Crilley, does an excellent job of vividly describing the action from a kid's perspective. I felt like I was standing right beside Akiko when she met King Froptoppit and the rest of her rescue party pals (the bookish Mr. Beeba is my personal favorite, with the enigmatic floating head known as Poog coming in at a close second). Thanks to Mr. Crilley's skillful handling of the material, floating cars, Sky Pirates and robots all make perfect sense while on the planet Smoo, no matter how unbelievable they might seem here on Earth.
But honestly, the best part about "Akiko on the Planet Smoo" is not initially noticeable to the casual reader. Mr. Crilley has provided a message that's invaluable to kids: they don't have to be grown-ups to make a difference. Akiko is a shy girl who isn't eager to take on too many responsibilities. When she gets whisked away to the planet Smoo and put in charge of a rescue party, she's convinced there must be some kind of mistake. She's no leader and has no idea how she's supposed to go about rescuing the Prince of Smoo. If it were up to her, she wouldn't even accept the job, but fortunately for her (and for us!), the King doesn't really give her much of a choice. As the story progresses, Akiko learns that she's capable of ALL KINDS of things, including the capability to be an excellent leader. Now, Mr. Crilley certainly doesn't bang his readers over the head with this lesson. He's mostly interested in telling a good story, not preaching self-sufficiency to kids. The moral just helps to insure that "Akiko on the Planet Smoo" will reach the status of "classic" long after most contemporary children's books disappear into oblivion.
So, if you're looking for something to read to your kids, or if you're looking for a way to relive your childhood, "Akiko on the Planet Smoo" is the book for you. Mr. Crilley is a real pro. He succeeded in making me relive parts of my childhood I'd all but forgotten; and that's a good thing, because they were some of the BEST parts I risked losing. I can't wait to read the next book in the series!
(By the way, if you like Mr. Crilley's illustrations in this book, I would highly recommend picking up his "Akiko" graphic novels, which this book is based on. They're available at this website, too!)