The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass
Illustrations by Jerry Craft
Published by Scholastic Press, August 26, 2014. Hardcover of 131 pages at $16.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.
Note: I read an advanced copy so any aspect of the book may change by publication.
The cover: Bakari Katari Johnson is weaving a flaming circle around himself using the marble in his right hand and the ring in his left. He looks overjoyed at what he’s doing, not noticing that his feet are frozen to the ground. Behind him are, from left to right, Tariq Thomas, Keisha Owens, and Wardell. The two boys are amazed at what the young hero is doing, while Keisha looks like she’s swooning. This cover, by interior illustrator Jerry Craft, shows the main characters clearly to give readers a good idea of what the heroes look like. That said, this is the least professional cover I’ve seen on a Scholastic book. The characters are very flat, details are lacking, and the coloring is very simple. Even the logo looks generic. I expect better on a book from this publisher. Overall grade: C-
The premise: From the inside front cover, “Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. Tariq Thomas, the most popular kid in their class, is in his face–again! And here comes Keisha Owens with all of her bossy talking. On top of that, Bakari has found a strange ring that appears to have magical powers, and the people from the ring’s fantastical otherworld want it back. It doesn’t help that Bakari is so shy. And scared to speak up. And wishes he could hide under his desk in Mrs. Crump’s class at Thurgood Cleavon Wilson Elementary. Well, at least he’s got his best friend, Wardell, who’s always there to help, even in the scariest situations. Can Bakari and Wardell hold off the intruders’ attempts, keep the ring safe, and stand up to Tariq and Keisha all in one day?” From this I’m assuming that the title zombies are the ones who want the ring back. No mention is made of them specifically in this tease, but Tariq and Keisha are listed as threats. In my mind, that puts them on even footing with zombies. This doesn’t seem to follow through logically. I like zombies, magic, and some school anxiety, so I’m hoping there’s more of the former two than the latter in this book. Overall grade: B-
The characters: Bakari is a smart, shy boy who would rather hide in the back of the room than be noticed. He’s brought to everyone’s attention after his buddy Wardell puts his name up for class hall monitor. This causes stress for the quiet boy from Keisha, cousin to perfect, popular, and present hall monitor Tariq. There’s a random insertion of Bakari missing his departed granddad, who left him a marble, which the boy cherishes. This fact exists solely for a moment in the book’s climax that made no sense. Wardell is the overweight best friend whose loyalty is doubted by the lead when he gets too close with Tariq and Keisha. Tariq is a one note character whose contribution to the story is the embodiment of fame with his peers that Bakari craves. Keisha is more frightening than the title zombies. She has a mouth, she gets physical, and there’s not much to like until the supernatural characters appear and all is quickly forgiven with Bakari. The walking ice zombies are led by Zenon, an intelligent ice zombie who wants his magic ring back. Why he needs it is never revealed and what he’s been doing before encountering Bakari and company is never stated. He’s a physical and vocal threat without much bite. The zombies move slowly and growl and threaten from a distance. I don’t know how these characters would entertain the intended audience because their motivations are either a jumble and/or a cardboard cuts out of characters. Overall grade: C
The settings: An elementary school is the main setting of the book. A classroom, the halls, the cafeteria, and the library are the settings. All of these locations will be readily relatable to small readers. The Zombie world is described as an icy wasteland. Not much detail is given except it’s cold. I wanted more in this location. Overall grade: B
The action: The threat of the zombies might thrill youngsters, but parents should feel safe: no one gets bitten or killed. There’s a lot of moaning, groaning, and trudging. That’s about it. I never felt the thrills of this book amounted to any tension. It is intended for younger readers, so that’s understandable. However, somebody having anything bad happen to them would have made this more memorable. Overall grade: C-
The conclusion: I couldn’t understand how the marble contained magic and how it was able to work with the “evil” ring. It didn’t make sense. The explanation given seemed tossed in to create an image more so than be plausible. The acknowledgment to granddad’s gift is tacked on. Overall grade: D
The illustrations: I am hoping this was not finished work I saw in this book. Case in point, Page 4. Keisha’s hand seems to be growing out of her face, the shading on Tariq’s arm, neck, and lips seems odd, and the line work on the teacher and the classroom is so thin to render it useless. The focus of the image should be on Keisha and Bakari, they should be the only two characters in the image. Thick and thin line work is a constant problem in Craft’s work. On Page 6 the background is completely unnecessary to the image and only highlights how sketchy it is. The lines used to shade Bakari’s neck and eyes looks last minute. This art in this uncorrected proof looks rushed. I want the art to be better than this in the final book. Overall grade: D
The final line: Only the youngest readers might enjoy this jumble of a story with subpar art. Overall grade: C-
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.