The march of zombies through pop culture is unstoppable. With Zombiekins, the new novel from Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger author Kevin Bolger, the undead shamble their way into a book for children through the unlikely means of a stuffed toy.
At a local witch’s yard sale, grade-schooler Stanley Nudelman is drawn to the titular half-bunny, half-teddy with the “macabre, half-dead appearance.” What he doesn’t realize is that the toy has a few hidden features, such as an ability to come to life in moonlight, which results in a stuffed-animal massacre at Stanley’s sister’s tea party. Thing go from bad to worse when he brings Zombiekins to school, and the toy starts biting his classmates, transforming them into the walking dead. Stanley, a scaredy-cat protagonist if there ever was one, must find the courage to overcome not just hordes of zombie-kids, but even more terrifying, school bullies and tyrant teachers.
Bolger writes with goofy exuberance: the gruesome, non-stop jokes and quick-paced action pull the reader along from scene to scene. Zombies have long been used as metaphors for the fears that lumber through the North American mind. Bolger adjusts the metaphors for a kid’s perspective, seeing the undead in perfectly orderly teachers’ pets and sullen middle-schoolers.
Aaron Blecha’s accompanying squiggly cartoons alternate between cute and gross. His images play well against the text, offering additional jokes for the careful reader, such as the effect of a voodoo doll on a nosy neighbour. Blecha could have pushed this even further; there are times when the illustrations are too literal, and lack comedic punch. Also, the book fails to explore the relationship between Stanley and his terrible toy, which all but disappears during the zombie-kid rampage. Sure, this ain’t The Velveteen Rabbit, but digging a little deeper into this pairing would have illuminated the place toys hold in a child’s imagination – or at least explained why anyone would keep this particular monster around. Nonetheless, Bolger has written a very lively zombie tale, one that will no doubt be gobbled up by readers.