The Zero Degree Zombie Zone
Patrick Henry Bass
Jerry Craft, Illustrator
Scholastic, 2014 131 pg.
Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. His best friend, Wardell, has nominated him to be classroom hall monitor, running against the golden boy of the elementary school, Tariq. Keisha, Teriq's evil cousin, is on the rampage against Bakari, promising to make his life a living nightmare. When he loses his most prized possession, a marble given to him by his late grandfather, who professed that it has magical powers and Teriq picks it up, things couldn't get much worse. But they do. Bakari gets mysteriously transported to an ice kingdom where a giant ice zombie king demands his ring back from him. Of course Bakari has no idea what the ice zombie king is talking about. It is only later, once Bakari is transported back to the school, that he sees the ring on Keisha's finger. Bakari picks up the ring after Keisha unknowingly drops it and uses it against the ice zombies that invade the cafeteria during lunch. Keisha works it more effectively and takes control over the ring for the second invasion. After much squabbling and a falling-out between Bakari and Wardell,the four kids must learn to work together after they are all transported back to the ice kingdom. Do they escape and return to their own place and time? Do Wardell and Bakari make up? Who wins the hall monitor election? All of these questions are satisfactorily answered by the book's conclusion.
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone is a recent offering in the text/comic hybrid craze. Craft contributes entertaining cartoons which are generously sprinkled throughout the book, appearing at least every other page. The plot is fast moving and every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger to propel the reader forward. Its not great literature, but does the job and will appeal to reluctant readers. It will especially attract boys, but throwing a strong female character into the mix makes it also accessible to girls. Bass uses hip language, yet keeps the vocabulary right where it should be for this age group. I like that the plot is fresh (I've never seen ice zombies before) and I like that the book features African American characters (very rare for this age group). The Zero Degree Zombie Zone imparts the messages to be loyal to your fiends, get to know your enemies, because they might turn out to also be friends, and to respect the memories and lessons of those who have gone on before us (Bakari's grandfather). A decent, simple book, surprisingly off the beaten path of this genre. Although the book does not end on a cliff hanger, Scholastic is projecting this book to be the first in a series featuring Bakari Karari Johnson and his friends.