Zombies for Kids? Heck, Yeah! Book Review: The Last Kids on Earth Series by Max Brallier, Illustrated by Douglas Holgate

Interest in supernatural motifs ebbs and flows with changing tastes.  Wizards and witches were all the rage during the Harry Potter years.  Vampires and werewolves took center stage during the Twilight craze (Go Team Jacob!).  The prevalence of zombies in pop culture is due to a man named Robert Kirkman whose indie comic book series The Walking Dead chewed its way into comic fan hearts in 2003.  The black and white series is still running strong, but it’s the AMC tv series based on the comic that sparked America’s obsession with the undead.

Regardless of one’s feelings about the show or the comic, one ascertained fact is undeniable: The story is not meant for children.  Yet the proliferation of The Walking Dead merchandise and advertising still piques the interest of many kids.  Max Brallier and Dogulas Holgate tap that youthful curiosity to create a world with zombies and monsters that echo the campy humor of a Scooby Doo episode.  For kids interested in the horror genre without the gore and violence of The Walking Dead, The Last Kids on Earth is a must-read series.

Jack Sullivan is a foster kid who moved from foster home to foster home.  When the monster apocalypse hit, he knew he was on his own.  Perched high above the ground in a souped-up tree house complete with electricity, video games, and enough homemade weapons to fill a kid’s imagination for years, Jack prepares himself for battle with the hordes of monsters and zombies who now inhabit his world.

In Jack’s initial quests he must avoid the zombie herds and hulking monsters in search of his best friend Quint and his main crush June.  With the help of a giant monster dog named Rover, Jack finds Quint and begins his search for June.  Jack sees himself as the ultimate kid hero:  part Indiana Jones, part Jedi knight and all action star.  He keeps a record of his amazing feats of survival in a notebook that also serves as a bestiary of all the creatures he encounters.  The entire plot of book one is Jack’s search for June and his hopes of being her great hero-in-waiting.

The second book takes a decidedly sci-fi twist as Jack and his friends learn the cause of the monster and zombie apocalypse.  Jack and his pals also learn that not all the monsters want to destroy everything in sight.  New characters appear and Jack’s world (and universe!) become a much bigger place.  The zombies that appeared at every turn in the first book have been disappearing.  When Jack discovers piles of zombie bodies with their brains removed Jack believes a more dangerous force is at work that could spell doom for the survivors.

Parents concerned about violent images or scary content can rest easy.  The monsters in the book are over-the-top silly and the kids always have the upper hand.  The books are more suspense and adventure than horror.  Yet there’s just enough zombie cool factor to keep the kids coming back for more.

Another pleasant surprise is the diversity of the cast of characters.  Jack is a foster kid, Quint is African American, and June is Latina.  The series continues an encouraging trend of seeing diverse characters in books that aren’t necessarily focused on common diversity issues such as civil rights and social justice.  The kids here are beautifully characterized; readers can’t help but find them intriguing.

At the time of this post a third volume is scheduled for release in the fall of 2017.  For reluctant readers or kids who love a good old-fashioned kid-friendly dystopian apocalyptic romp these titles are just the right fit.  Highly recommended!

Teacher Information

Last Kids on Earth: Lexile 650; Accelerated Reader Lvl. 4.1, 3.0 points; Reading Counts Lvl. 3.7, 6.0 points

Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade: Lexile 570; Accelerated Reader Lvl. 4.0, 4 points; Reading Counts Lvl. 3.3, 9.0 points

Think of this series as a cross between Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Indiana Jones, and The Walking Dead.  No need to worry about content.  The zombies are remarkably inept and the kids are in total control in this world.  There are a few pictures of dismembered body parts but the style of the artwork makes it seem silly and non-threatening.  The pictures break up the text in manageable chunks, although the second volume is heavier on text than the first.  But once a kid gets hooked on the first I doubt this will be a problem.

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