The Zombie Prince
The Zombie Prince
“A zombie prince,” Oscar declares triumphantly, jumping to his feet. But then he shakes his head. “I don’t think you can destroy your enemies with your tears, though. It doesn’t work that way.”
Matt Beam and Luc Melanson’s picture book, The Zombie Prince, emphasises the values of good friends and strong imaginations. Brandon is upset by teasing from an unseen character called Sam. With tears streaking his face, Brandon, along with two friends, withdraws into the school yard so that Brandon might be consoled and regain his composure.
I was somewhat confused during my initial reading of Beam’s written text. The name-calling that upset Brandon is referred to, but it occurred before the events included in the book. Similarly, I found it a little confusing to have the first-person narrator play a less prominent role than Brandon (the victim) and Oscar (his friend). I had to slow down and follow very closely to figure out the identity of each character. Once these issues were sorted, subsequent readings generated no such confusion. The young target audience will, however, likely experience some initial difficulties in grasping what is going on.
Melanson is a talented illustrator. In 2002, he won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration for the book Le grand voyage de monsier (The Grand Journey of Mr. Man). This new book contains the distinctive Melanson style that also worked so well in Olivier Ka’s (2009) My Great Big Mama and Martine Audet’s (2012) Martin on the Moon. That style includes oversized, round heads on lean characters, and a liberal use of cool greens contrasted by splashes of vibrant warm colours. His illustrations will no doubt appeal to his young audience. My own personal preference is for a more photorealism art style. Nonetheless, there is no denying Melanson’s skillful use of shape and colour. In this case, however, I think the illustrations where Brandon is most upset could have featured a more vibrant, warm palette. This would have better reflected Brandon’s anger and distress.
Unfortunately, overcoming teasing and name-calling is a challenge many children (and not just a few adults) face. Teachers and caregivers might use this book to encourage friendships, support, and community building. There are better books about bullying and teasing, but there is value in Beam and Melanson’s work, and many will find The Zombie Prince creative and engaging. My fear is that young readers or listeners will find some of the book confusing and difficult to follow.
Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He specialises in literature for children.