August 10, 2009

JUNIOR ZOMBIE WEEK: Day of the Field Trip Zombies (Review)


Day of the
Field Trip Zombies

Written by Scott Nickel
Illustrated by Cedric Hohnstadt

Stone Arch Books: 2008



5 / 5 zedheads

In this graphic novel for Kindergarten readers by Scott Nickel and Cedric Hohnstadt, Trevor is a fifth-grade expert on zombies and self-proclaimed "zombie buster." The story begins with him staying up too late to watch a zombie movie, but his mother makes him go to bed so he'll be well-rested for the big field trip to the Aquarium. Little does she know that Trevor's zombie-knowledge is going to come in handy when the evil Doctor Branium shows up at the aquarium and causes pandemonium with his Zombitron 3000. Doctor Branium turns Trevor's class, as well as many of the aquarium animals, into zombie slaves! Only Trevor, the original zombie buster, can stop him.

The setup is quit humorous and full of action. Cedric Hohnstadt's artwork here captures an animated-cartoon style, which is fitting because the story could easily be padded out into a half-hour TV cartoon episode. The story is mostly one of action told through a standard arrangement of comics panels, but it has some quirky twists such as the introduction of zombie penguins and zombies sharks. Kids and parents already familiar with zombies will note that this book includes two-different types of zombies (the undead zombies at the beginning of the book and the hypnotized zombie slaves near the end). Also, there are a number of self-aware jabs at the zombie genre, as when Trevor remarks that zombies aren't scary since they move so slowly. Doctor Branium, however, has a solution for that!

I think what makes this book better than other graphic novels for young readers is that it not only seeks to entertain but educate and improve both reading and writing skills. The actual comics portion of the book is about 31 pages, but there are six or seven supplemental pages of activities and readings based on the book's story. For example, there is a glossary of vocabulary words from the story [zombify (ZOM-buh-fye)--to turn someone into a zombie], there is a short history of Aquariums, and there are discussion questions and writing prompts such as this question about ethics: "Trevor ignored his group leader and went into the gift shop by himself. If he hadn't wandered off, Trevor might have become a zombie. Does this make his decision okay?"

These supplemental readings add a level of richness to the comic and help guide parents and educators to better explore the content of the story with their kids. Although many adults have been fighting for years to show that comics can be serious literature, most kids who are new readers still see comics as an "easier" alternative to other books. As such, Day of the Field Trip Zombies makes a great gate-way book into the world of reading for reluctant readers and zombie fans, but it also provides a child with imaginative activities to enrich their learning after the story is finished.