Braaaains: 8 Tales of the Zombie Apocalypse for Tweens

by Tom Burns

Who knew that zombies would become so popular? When I was a kid, everyone wanted to talk about vampires or giant robots, but today, thanks to shows like “The Walking Dead” and “iZombie,” reanimated corpses are all the rage.

In fact, zombies have become such a mainstream phenomenon that there’s actually a whole subset of zombie lore for kids now, which is both creepy and hilarious. Because some kids no longer seem to think of a zombie apocalypse scenario as a necessarily bad thing. They see it as an excuse to test their survival skills, knock around some monsters, and debate which one of their friends would be most (and least likely) to die if their school was attacked by a shambling horde.

I’ll leave it up the psychologists to decide if any of this is particularly healthy, but the fact is kids love zombies and they’re going to want to read about them. So, if you have a monster-loving middle schooler at home, here are eight books about dealing with the zombie apocalypse that they should absolutely love.

  • The Last Kids on Earth

    by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate

    It’s like “The Walking Dead,” but, you know, for kids! Kidding aside, Brallier and Holgate turn surviving the “Monster Apocalypse” into a thrilling, surprising, humorous piece of pure childhood wish fulfilment. In this chapter book-graphic novel hybrid, we follow 13-year-old Jack Sullivan who lives on scavenged junk food and decides to assemble a team of monster hunters (all from his middle school) to help survive the zombies and destroy the all-powerful Blarg (a monster of some renown). It doesn’t take itself too seriously and allows young readers to wonder how useful their best pals would be while fighting zombies. (It also nicely spins off into a series — the most recent volume is The Last Kids on Earth and the Nightmare King.)

  • The Zombie Chasers

    by John Kloepfer, illustrated by Steve Wolfhard

    It’s the age-old question — what would you do if a zombie invasion broke out during a middle grade sleepover? We get an answer in The Zombie Chasers, an irreverent illustrated chapter book that features a ton of gore and zombie mayhem, but portrayed in such a cartoony, over-the-top style that it will make kids chuckle more than scream. In fact, Kloepfer treats Zack Clarke’s attempts to survive the night (and his zombie big sister) as an excuse to indulge in an enormous amount of gross-out humor, which kids will love and parents will … well, let’s be honest, either quietly tolerate or love themselves. (This one is also the first in a series.)

  • Zombie Baseball Beatdown

    by Paolo Bacigalupi

    The title might make this sound like it was written by a sixth grader, but you have to pay attention to the pedigree behind this surprisingly engaging zombie book. It was written by Paolo Bacigalupi, a National Book Award finalist, who has won several major literary prizes, and might be best known for his award-winning books like The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker. In this bombastic adventure, Bacigalupi uses a premise right out of a George Romero movie — a group of kids on their way home from baseball practice are forced to use their bats to protect themselves from a zombie outbreak at a meat-packing plant — to tell a layered story about immigration, race, food ethics, and more. It’s like a hybrid between a standard kids’ adventure story and Netflix’s “Okja.” It’s worth seeking out.

  • Minecraft: The Island

    by Max Brooks

    Before you roll your eyes, parents, YES, there is a Minecraft book on this list. But this is no ordinary Minecraft book. The Island is possibly the first example of Minecraft literary fiction — it’s a first-person story all about what it would feel like to wake up living in a Minecraft world and have to scavenge, hunt, and, yeah, fight the occasional zombie at night. The Island also gets extra zombie brownie points for being written by Max Brooks, the author of the hugely successful zombie novel World War Z, so trust us, this guy knows a little something about struggling to survive in a world full of monsters.

  • My Rotten Life: Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie

    by David Lubar

    It’s hard not to love a protagonist with a name that rhymes so well with “accidental zombie.” And Nathan Abercrombie is a whole lot of fun. A spiritual cousin to Alexander who once had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Nathan is an incredibly unlucky 10-year-old who gets exposed to an experimental serum and is turned into a zombie. However, fortunately for Nathan, he quickly learns that being undead can be a lot of fun. A great piece of walking dead wish fulfillment that’s always quick with a joke. (It’s spawned a series of 4 sequels so far.)

  • Zombie Elementary

    by Howard Whitehouse

    Zombie Elementary is a bit like the middle school version of “Zombieland.” Told as the account of a supposedly “real” incident, our hero, fourth grader Larry Mullet, offers his advice on fighting zombies as he recounts his adventures dealing with a school-based outbreak. Because what kid wouldn’t love the excuse to battle a hated teacher or some snooty cheerleaders — if (and only if, of course) they were turned into slobbered undead monsters? Kids who love to discuss their post-apocalyptic zombie hunting strategies will love this one.

  • The Zombie Awakening

    by Chris Grabenstein

    Grabenstein might be best known for his Mr. Lemoncello series, but if you have a kid who loves spooky stories, you should definitely check out Grabenstein’s Haunted Mysteries collection. Within that series full of ghosts and demons, you’ll find this engaging tale of two friends who discover that, not only is their middle school haunted by ghosts, the ghosts are trying to warn them about a sinister zombie who lives in the school’s basement. A quick, fun adventure that will appeal to any middle schooler who enjoys Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

  • The Zombie Survival Guide

    by Max Brooks

    This one might skew a little old for your middle schooler, but if you have a kid at home who talks about the coming of the zombie apocalypse like it’s an absolute certainty, they have to read this book one day. Written by Max Brooks, author of the previously-mentioned Minecraft: The Island and World War Z, this survival guide takes its premise very, very seriously. Brooks is an expert in disaster response and preparedness (he’s lectured around the globe) and he very calmly and very rationally breaks down exactly what you’d actually want to do if a zombie plague started spreading across the world. This will scare the pants off some kids and other kids will think it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever read. (You know your kid, so use your best judgment.)

SPECIAL NOTE FOR PARENTS:  Hey Moms and Dads, just so you know, preparing for the undead apocalypse doesn’t have to just be for kids. Case in point, Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, written by James Breakwell, the mind behind the hilarious @XplodingUnicorn Twitter account. If you’re not sure how to parent during a global zombie pandemic and survive in a chewed-over dystopia, this book is definitely for you.