October 16, 2018

The Zombie Prince

Written by Matt Beam
Illustrated by Luc Melanson
Groundwood Books
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2018

With Halloween around the corner, a zombie prince sounds like a great costume. It oozes power and fear and may be just the thing to help Brandon destroy his enemies. But Brandon's is not a costume. It's an imaginary coat of armour to help the boy fight off, virtually, a schoolyard bully. 

Three boys, Brandon, Oscar and our narrator, hang out on the grass of the school yard, problem-solving how to deal with a bully, Sam, who has called Brandon a fairy. And though Ms. Gomez has declared that fairies are fearless creatures, Brandon is devastated by the bully's evident malice. So, each of the boys imagines himself as powerful enough to fight off Sam's hurtful words. Brandon sees himself as "a zombie who will destroy his enemies with the tears falling down his face." Oscar sees himself as a ghost who will block the mean words hurled at Brandon.  Our narrator declares himself a vampire who will suck bad things from the air, including "pollution and Mrs. Clark's perfume clouds and Sam's mean words."
From The Zombie Prince by Matt Beam, illus. by Luc Melanson
Finally our narrator suggests that "Sam was wrong, Brandon," and that Brandon would "make an awesome fairy, but you actually looked more like a prince." That delights Brandon and the three boys while away the rest of recess imagining planes, yetis and lasers in themselves and their surroundings.
From The Zombie Prince by Matt Beam, illus. by Luc Melanson
Anxiety about bullying often comes from ruminating over words said and abuses inflicted, and anticipating the worst as a consequence of overthinking. But, what the boys learn is that that same busy brain can be used to fuel an imagination that can allay that anxiety and produce calm and joy instead. Matt Beam's The Zombie Prince applauds the solace that comes from applying creativity to distracting and comforting rather than worrying, and with friends to help bolster that creativity with emotional support, Brandon glows with the relief of being a zombie prince.
From The Zombie Prince by Matt Beam, illus. by Luc Melanson
There's a similar glow to Luc Melanson's quirky illustrations that have a lovely green tinge, though not quite like that of a zombie's skin. The green is soft like grass and warm like sunshine, and uplifting like the support the three boys give each other. Moreover, by making the three children so different in their features, Luc Melanson supports Matt Beam's story assertion that all boys can be sensitive and supportive and never less for feeling vulnerable.

While littlest ones might be enamoured with the idea of a zombie prince–creepy and powerful–Matt Beam and Luc Melanson's illustrated story approaches the idea that power comes from something within, not from external appearances, and strength is built upon compassion and awareness, enhanced with a healthy dose of imagination.

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