CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 9. . . .October 29, 2010
Kevin Bolger. Illustrated by Aaron Blecha.
New York, NY: Razorbill (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2010.
206 pp., hardcover, $13.50.
Toys - Juvenile fiction.
Zombies - Juvenile fiction.
Schools -Juvenile fiction.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
But something else had caught his attention.
It was some sort of stuffed animal, still in the box. Only it wasn’t like any stuffed animal Stanley had ever seen before....
It had one floppy bunny ear on a teddy bear’s head and body...webbed paws with sharp claws...feet like a lizard
and two fangs instead of a rabbit’s buckteeth.
Its eyes were sewn on like buttons–one fixed straight ahead with a cold, blank stare, the other dangling on a loose thread. Its fur was mangled and matted. And even still in the box, it was covered in cobwebs.
Something about the strange toy appealed to Stanley. It was so different from his kid sister’s annoying stuffed animals, with their treacly songs and their adorable remarks whenever you squeezed their tummies.
“My dear, zat is no ordinary toy,” the Widow started to explain. “It’s– ...full of surprises, the Widow said at last, with a very speaking look. Then she whispered, Just be sure to read zee instructionz.”
My granddaughter Michelle has a collection of Webkinz toy stuffed animals. Fortunately, none of them remotely resemble the toy from the Zombiekins collection that Stanley Nudelman, with friend Miranda, purchased at the yard sale of his neighbour, the Widow Imavitch. The excerpt above describes what Stanley’s Zombiekins looks like and includes the important direction from the Widow Imavitch that Stanley must be certain to read the instructions that are on the box that contains his Zombiekins. What’s missing from the excerpt is the information that the Widow also gives Stanley a bag of leftover Halloween candy, a fact that becomes important much later in the book.
Of course, Stanley immediately discards the box which would have warned him that his Zombiekins “would remain a harmless stuffy as long as it wasn’t exposed to direct moonlight.” When Stanley arrives home, the family’s dog, Fetch, immediately recognizes Zombiekins’ malevolent nature, but, naturally, Stanley doesn’t understand what Fetch is trying to communicate to him. Stanley’s two-year-old sister, Rosalie, makes Zombiekins part of her tea party in the family playroom where Zombiekins’s seatmate is Whimsy the Poo, a teddy bear that says happy things like “Hugs are cuddle-wonderful” or “Have a huggsy-wuggsy day.” That night, a full moon “awakens” Zombiekins who tears apart a good number of the playroom toys, beginning with his “sweet” tea party mate, Whimsy the Poo. In the morning, Fetch leads Stanley to the playroom and again attempts to “warn” him about Zombiekins, but Stanley thinks that Fetch is responsible for the damage and hides the mangled toys.
Naturally, Stanley takes Zombiekins to school, and readers can correctly anticipate that chaos will soon occur there. When Stanley’s teacher decides to show the film “Our Neighbour, the Moon,” Zombiekins awakens to the celluloid moonlight and bites Felicity Lickspittle, the class goody-goody and tattletale, before slipping out of the classroom and creating more zombies, with his next victim being Knuckles Bruzkowski, the school bully and Stanley’s chief tormentor. By the school day’s end, virtually all the students, with the obvious exception of Stanley and Miranda, are zombies. Fortunately, the pair stumble upon the antidote, the Widow Imavitch’s Halloween candy which is still in Stanley’s backpack. And while all ends well, with Zombiekins “safely locked up in Stanley’s closet” and things probably again returning to being quiet and uneventful in Stanley’s home town, Dementedyville, the book’s last word is probably..... The book’s penultimate page advertises COMING SOON. Zombiekins II They Came From Under the Bed.
Take the “Bunnicula”, “Goosebumps” and “Captain Underpants” series and mash them all together, and the result would be something resembling Zombiekins. An elementary school teacher for a decade, Bolger obviously knows what will amuse his audience, whether it be his selection of names for his characters, such as that of Stanley’s teacher, Mr. Baldengrumpy (who seems more concerned about his students moving in orderly, quiet lines in the hall than he does in teaching them) or in humorously developing scenes, such as the one in which he describes how Stanley “thrashes” Knuckles:
First [Stanley] seized hold of Knuckle’s hand with his neck. Then he pounded Knuckles in the fist with his face. Then he bashed Knuckles in the knee with the side of his head.
Stanley was just lying down on the pavement to strike Knuckles sharply and repeatedly in the foot with his stomach when Miranda reappeared with a wooden baseball bat.
Although Zombiekins is some 200 pages long, it is a quick read, partly because it is so entertaining and partly because its text length is actually cut in half by the inclusion of Blecha’s cartoon-like illustrations that appear on virtually every page. While Blecha’s artwork usually provides a comic visual representation of Bolger’s words, sometimes it tells a slightly different story. For example, in one place where the text reads, “Not now, Fetch,” Stanley said. “I’m too busy doing homework to play with you.” Blecha’s illustration shows Stanley sitting on the floor, surrounded by school books but playing a handheld electronic game.
Without a doubt, Zombiekins will definitely be a kid favourite!
Dave Jenkinson, who is CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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