Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau

Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Ryan Andrews (Candlewick, July 14 2020), is an excellent light horror story for 8-9 year-olds (although it's not actually horror unless you are a small woodland creature). It fits nicely into that slice of reading confidence development that falls between early chapter books and full throttle middle grade, with plenty of illustrations, but plenty of text as well.

In a cold, dark laboratory, a cat, Y-91 escapes its cage and makes it to the freedom of the world outside. Weak and starving, the cat finds shelter in a dumpster outside the YummCo Foods factory. The Big Boss of the lab is furious, and demands the cat be found.

The cat is found, but not by the lab assistants. Two nine-year old kids, Mellie and her best friend Danny, are using the factory as the setting for one of the horror movies Danny likes to make. Mellie's heart goes out to the poor animal when she see him in the dumpster, and she names him Bert and takes him home, even though her parents probably won't let her keep him. If she bothers to ask them, that is. So she doesn't, counting on them to be so wrapped up in their food and family blog, which stars her little twin siblings, that they don't even notice.

Mellie, a responsible new pet owner, hits the books to find out how to care for cats, and buys high quality cat food. Bert will have none of it, but demands to be let outside. He is a hunter, and the next day Mellie finds the distressing evidence of his prowess--headless corpses. Bert trusts her, though, and returns to her room to rest. And though Mellie is disturbed by the corpses Bert tries to share with her (his fondness for brains is rather zombie-like, and extends to the decapitation of her stash of stuffed animals), she loves him.

But the Big Boss and his minions are looking for Bert, and it's clear from the chapters told from the cat's point of view that he is not an ordinary animal. The lab is a place where bad things happen, the Big Boss is not nice at all, and Bert is in danger....

The story is delightfully creepy and full of dark mystery, and also full of friendship and family life. Mellie's relationship with her parents, strained by their obsession with creating food and family moments to document for the blog, improves; though they seem not to be paying much attention to her, they actually are better parents than she's giving them credit for. Her partnership with Danny is top notch, and it's his horror movie fixation that sets their minds turning to zombies...Bert is a character in his own right (though he stays always and clearly a cat, and never seems to be a thinking human person in cat form, which I appreciated). I also appreciated that as a result the reader is left not knowing just who or what he is...

The possibility that Bert's a zombie is creepy, but it quickly becomes obvious that the real horror is what's happening in the lab. Part of me wants to recommend the book to animal lovers, who will be right there with Mellie looking out for Bert, but sensitive animal lovers might be distressed by the all too real nastiness of experiments on lab animals (hinted at, though not explicitly described).

It was an abrupt shock to reach the end of this book only to find that we don't get the answers yet! I myself am suspicious of YummCo Foods, and their economic hold on the town....The sudden stop makes me want to read the next book, but it also was very harsh to be just left there with all the questions. This might annoy some young readers greatly.

But that being said, it's really easy to imagine lots of third grade kids loving Zombert, and I will be right there with them grabbing his next book!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. I wanted to send you a mail. But it seems your email charlotteslibrary@gmail.com
    is not correct can u send me the email address.

    1. that should work, if you want to try again.

  2. I'm also very suspicious of YummCo Foods and can't wait to see where this story is headed. Bert's a wonderful character too.

  3. This sounds pretty unusual for kids so young, but I expect my granddaughter would have loved it at that age. Very interesting. Thanks for the post.


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