My sons are both going through a zombie stage and they both really enjoy non-fiction as well as fiction. True zombie stories are in rather short supply. While I am grateful that we have not been over run by legions of the living dead - it does make shopping for this type of book difficult. So How do you write a book about zombies without resorting to fiction?
The very beginning of the book traces the rise of the zombie legend through movies and folk lore. This gives quick mention to the Zombie film, White Zombie in which zombies were slaves rather than rampaging creatures intent on feasting on brains. There are also a few pages on the European version of zombies - revenants. This is interesting, but just and the children definitely preferred the next section.
Voodoo Zombies not only briefly describes voodoo bokors and the use of zombies as slaves - it even includes a list of ingredients to make your very own stumbling, shuffling zombie. Of course a few of the ingredients may be hard to come by. You need a poisonous tree frog, toads, puffer fish zombie cucumber and a dead body. A powder is made from these items which must be fed to a living human. The person then "dies" and is dug up later to serve their new zombie master - the bokor.
The book starts off slightly frightening for a young child, but it ends with solid scientific explanations for the voodoo zombies. I think a brief explanation for the revenant would have been in order too, but an adult can very easily figure this out and explain what might have caused these beliefs. There are two pages and a very nice photo for the Haitian puffer fish and for the zombie cucumber. My sons really like to have a scientific explanation and were very well pleased with this book. Zombie powder and zombie cucumber plants have featured quite heavily in their own stories since reading this.
I think this book would fascinate children with an avid interest in zombies, and might provide reassurance for children frightened of such things. But I would exercise some caution here. While some children will take comfort in finding a reasonable scientific explanation, the very mention of zombies might frighten some children, especially with a few scary pictures. There is also mention of people being accidentally buried alive, and noticing my sons eyes growing rather large, I explained that this could not happen now. But if they had just read this alone I could see this causing some concerns and even so I was scared to death after reading an Edgar Allen Poe story when I was very young and no amount of explaining really convinced me.
The book does not give the more common western names for zombie cucumber but it is really datura or Jimson weed. My sons have asked if we could grow this plant - but I have said no. I have slight worries of this being introduced to Daddy's coffee to see if they could control him like a zombie. Not that I wouldn't find this amusing, but it a dangerous poison as well as a highly hallucinogenic drug. It isn't really something to be played with - but any child with the Internet could easily look up it's proper names and order a batch from ebay. However you still can not make your zombie, there are too many other factors involved.
My sons did really enjoy this book, and I found it interesting as well. I am afraid the actual text is limited, so there isn't as much detail as I would have liked, but there is a good reason for this. This is yet another High interest - low reading age book in my collection. This book is listed as appropriate for a child with a reading age of 8, but is likely to appeal to children much older. My oldest has only just turned 8, and he enjoys having some very easy reads, so he really does like this book, and even my youngest enjoys listening to it.
I do have one minor problem with this as a text for struggling readers though. The text is large and well spaced but it is occasionally printed over a coloured photo or pattern, which some struggling readers find more difficult. The vast majority of the book is on white though. There are going to be a couple of words that the average 8 year old might find unfamiliar like "Haitian", but I don't think one or two difficult words in a book is a problem - in fact ideally children would come across the occasional word which is more difficult as a means of stretching their reading skills.
I paid £3.84 for this book used and I do feel it has been well worth the money. A new copy would £5.66 from Amazon and I still consider this quite fair. If you have a child anywhere from 4 - 14 with an interest in zombies, I think this is worth considering. I would also recommend it for a reluctant reader as a non patronising easy to read book, even for young adults. I would even recommend this for a bit of fun to adult zombie fans who would just like to know a little bit more about the truth behind the legends.
This gets 5 stars from the whole family.