“ Illustrator: John Manders / Hardcover: 32 pages / Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company / Published: Sep 1999 „
I have a wide variety of alphabet books as I feel these are essential to teaching pre reading skills. However, my youngest wants absolutely nothing to do with the tradition A is for apple type books, so finding alphabet books he would actually want to read has been difficult. This is by far his favourite, but it most certainly will not suit all children. I've heard this recommended as a good Halloween book to use in a school setting, - but I could see major problems with reading this in a nursery or early primary setting. Some children will delight in this creepy collection of alphabet rhymes, but I suspect others may end up with nightmares. Parental discretion is advised.
Z is for Zombie is a very unusual alphabet book. Each page has a picture of a monster or some other creepy item, followed by a short rhyme such as " Bogeyman: Darkness masks the Bogeyman, till you're sleeping that's his plan". The illustrations are usually in darkened shades, some showing the subject very clearly, such as a sink full of bloody eyeballs, the cyclops eating a man, or a queen with her head in her hands, while others only give you a hint of things to come - a clawed hand reaching in the door for the bogeyman, or a set of eyes staring in a bedroom window for the end of this book accompanied by this warning "Beware the night and what it brings, for out their lurk such scary things".
My youngest absolutely loves this book, and often uses it like a shopping catalogue to choose characters he wants included in his bedtime stories that night. He really enjoys the illustrations, and seems to like the quick rhymes as well. He really does enjoy stories about monsters and zombies, and finds all the slightly scary parts amusing, but I could see some children being frightened by this, especially when you consider the fact that a child young enough to be learning their alphabet is still quite young. I couldn't imagine reading this in a nursery class as you would almost certainly have at least one very angry parent the next day. It might be fun for much older children as a quick Halloween read though. My oldest did enjoy this once, but he rarely reads a picture book more than once now. It could certainly be used to inspire older children to write their own Halloween rhymes.
However, I do not feel this book would have been of any use in teaching the alphabet without being altered. It has the name of each spooky item, but this is in a highly stylised block text, which I would find difficult to read if I did not already know the spellings for each word. Lower case "U" is the worst. It is presented as a black square shape with a white diamond in the middle, but all of the letters in the name of each subject are splattered looking, as if made by dipping a shape in ink, and slopping tons of extra ink over the letter. It actually doesn't look bad. There is a certain artistic quality to it, but it hardly suits a child who is just learning to read.
To make up for this shortcoming I placed large foil alphabet letters to the side of each poem. This worked out perfectly as the letters are very visible, but can also be traced with a finger allowing a child to learn the alphabet through touch as well. Of course you could simply write the letters in with marker, but having used the stickers, I would highly recommend this - and if possible - a textured sticker would work even better. I'm actually glad now this did not have the letters printed on the page as the stickers worked out so much better. Of course if you are buying this a novelty item for a much older child - or even an adult the stickers will not be necessary, but if you plan to use this to teach the alphabet, you will need to add an alphabet to the book by some means.
My own children do delight in spooky stories, and I am all for anything that gets boys reading. If a few creepy pictures and rhymes makes a book more exciting - I'm all for it. But there are several aspects of this book I feel could frighten some children. I have already quoted a couple of the rhymes, but the overwhelming premise of things waiting in the night could prove very frightening for some children. There is a picture of a boy pulling the covers up as skeletons clamber around his bed, jabbing at him with bony fingers, a huge hairy tarantula with a rhyme about it climbing up your wall, a night stalker waiting for darkness to hunt its prey and plenty of other things to leave children carefully watching the shadows. If your child is at all prone to nightmares or fears of the dark, I'd give this book a miss. But if you child loves horror stories at an early age - this might be just thing to spice up an otherwise dull activity like learning letters and phonemes.
I would have given this 4 stars, knocking one off for the blocky print and the fact that the letters are not printed on the pages. However my youngest really does love this book, and even the oldest feels it is brilliant for an ABC book. The lack of letters is easily sorted, and in fact the eye catching stickers worked out better than print anyway. I also do like when a publisher is willing to take a chance and print something different - and this most certainly is different. It's nice to be able to find a wide variety in books so that parents can find one that perfectly suits their own child. This may not be for everyone, but for my son, it really is a perfect match.
This book is available new from The Book Depository at £2.94. Amazon does not stock this themselves but you can buy from The Book Depository through Amazon with their Marketplace programme. Used books are hard to come by, and currently cost the same or more than buying a new book.