Scholastic Press, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 054513210X, August 2014
Shy fourth-grader Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. He’s always coming up against Tariq Thomas, the most popular kid in their class, and today is no different. On top of that, Bakari has found a strange ring that appears to have magical powers–and the people from the ring’s fantastical other world want it back! Can Bakari and his best friend Wardell stave off the intruders’ attempts, keep the ring safe, and stand up to Tariq and his pal Keisha, all before the school bell rings?
Although the title has the word “zombie” in it, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is kiddie horror. It’s more of an intro to fantasy, written on a level that makes it accessible for readers new to chapter books. The zombies are more like interdimensional beings.
Bakari’s best friend nominated him for hall monitor, but he’s up against Tariq, the most popular boy in class. Even worse, Tariq’s cousin Keisha is seriously scary, and if Bakari beats Tariq, she’ll be out for blood. But that all looks like small potatoes when Bakari’s sucked out of school and into a frozen dimension where a frost-giant-type creature demands Bakari give him back his magic ring. Unfortunately, Bakari has no clue what he’s talking about. All that’s in his pocket is a marble his late grandfather gave him, telling him, “All you need in life, Bakari, is three things: light, courage, and power.” The bad guy doesn’t want to accept Bakari’s explanation, though, and soon Bakari’s caught between trying to find the ring and placate the frost creature and trying to avoid Keisha, but perhaps the two issues are linked.
I had some reservations about the story as I read. I kept thinking, “It reads like something a third grader would write.” Then I realized, “Oh, duh, that’s a good thing.” Magic marbles and interdimensional portals in school aren’t exactly enchanted wardrobes, but on the other hand, any child can relate to the setting. Kids spend most of their time in school; of course zombies in the cafeteria would make sense.
Fast-paced, fun, and sometimes funny, Zero Degree Zombie Zone will probably be an easy sell with boys who want to hop on the zombie wagon, but since it’s not terribly scary and isn’t bloody, you can hand it over to pretty much anyone without fear of causing nightmares. Oh, and the art is decent, too.
Recommend to: Emerging chapter book readers ready for fantasy
To buy or not to buy: Additional purchase