Is it Possible to Write a Realistic Zombie Apocalypse Book for Children?
For years I’ve run the blog Middle Grade Ninja where I interview authors of children’s books as well as literary agents and editors. It’s a lot of fun, but at night I like to kick back with the latest issue of The Walking Dead, or re-watch Dawn of the Dead for the millionth time, or reread Home Delivery by Stephen King (my favorite zombie story).
For years, I’ve been wondering if it was possible to combine my loves and write a middle grade zombie story. A real zombie story, I mean, where the zombies are lethal and terrifying rather than friendly or funny. Zombies are inherently violent and nasty, which is what I love about them, but their standard behavior of feasting on the living doesn’t go over well in a book for children.
The best example of a zombie book featuring child characters I know is The Enemy by Charlie Higson, which I would argue is actually young adult rather than middle grade. And there’s no shortage of books about teenagers battling zombies. And why not? When the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes, teens and kids will have to face the undead as surely as adults.
My plan was to write a kid-friendly book about zombies that zombie fans could read to their children. What I wrote instead is All Together Now: A Zombie Story, which is far too violent and grotesque for young readers. Seriously, this book will severely traumatize kids, which is why I put a warning on the first page to help out parents.
As originally envisioned, 11-year-old Ricky Genero would tour the zombie apocalypse across a small Indiana town in search of a cure for his six-year-old zombie brother, Chuck. The cause of the zombie apocalypse is infected soda (Kirkman Soda, naturally), and what could be more kid friendly? Too much soda makes kidos emotional and violent as well as obese, so making it a cause of zombie-ism in my story is just being a good parent.
And then, 3 chapters in, my kid-friendly, middle grade protagonists came upon an overturned truck in a field and this happened:
I heard muffled thumping. There were two corpses pounding on the windshield from inside the truck.
“They’re out of food,” Levi said.
When I looked where he was pointing I felt faint and my vision clouded with black spots. If this had happened a week ago, I would’ve thrown up. But I’ve seen a lot since then.
At first I could see only the zombies lying on the roof of the truck’s cab, Mommy and Daddy. Both of them had the dark rimmed, all-white eyes of the dead, sunken because the pale grey skin surrounding them had gone lax and hung off their skulls like dough.
Mommy was wearing a blue summer dress, stained maroon all down the front. Daddy had broken his neck and his head lolled on his shoulder. An unnatural bulge protruded beneath his jaw and stretched the skin there to near bursting.
Then I saw what Levi meant by “food.”
Hanging upside down behind Mommy and Daddy was a car seat. It was still strapped in, despite the seat belt straps on either side having been gnawed through.
The soft grey lining of the car seat was stained red and black and covered in flecks of skin and hair.
I highlighted that passage and my finger hovered over the delete button. Nothing about zombie parents eating their baby is kid friendly. But maybe, I didn’t want to be so kid friendly after all. Maybe after years of writing children’s fiction, I wanted to be the bad.
I changed Ricky’s age to 15, rewrote the beginning, and went as dark as my heart desired, which is disturbingly very, very dark. Eyes are eaten out of screaming faces, little girl’s heads are stomped in, folks are set on fire, and I won’t even tell you about the daycare center scene (can a book ever have too many zombie babies?).
So the answer to my original question, is it possible to write a realistic zombie apocalypse book for children, is probably yes. But not by a deranged writer like me. Clearly, I have issues.
About the book:
Fifteen-year-old Ricky Genero is writing a journal of the zombie apocalypse. His high school has burned to the ground, his friends are all either dead or shambling corpses roaming the earth in search of human flesh, and his best friend died saving his six-year-old brother Chuck from a zombie horde. When Chuck is bitten and infected with the zombie virus, Ricky must travel among the walking dead in search of a cure.
Robert Kent is the author of the young adult novel ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY. He runs the popular blog for writers, MIDDLE GRADE NINJA, and lives with his family in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he’s hard at work on his next book.