January 23, 2014


Plants vs. Zombies: Plant Your Path Junior Novel. By Tracey West. HarperFestival. $5.99.

Plants vs. Zombies: Brain Food. By Brandon T. Snider. HarperFestival. $10.99.

     PopCap has a big hit with the thoroughly ridiculous video game Plants vs. Zombies, and it is scarcely surprising that spinoffs in the non-video-game world have been, um, growing rapidly. Never mind that the spinoffs, like the game itself, seem already to have eaten the brains of participants – the whole Plants vs. Zombies ethos is designed to be mindless fun. Even on the printed page, in two new Plants vs. Zombies activity books, the whole idea is to have as much fun as possible while doing so little thinking that it seems as if zombies really have eaten your brains. Thus, Plant Your Path Junior Novel does not require readers to follow a plot from start to finish – nothing that complicated! This is one of those choose-your-own story  books, in which you read a snippet of narrative, then pick which of two choices you would like to follow, then go to whatever page that choice leads to. The story itself is just like other Plants vs. Zombies tales – there is, in fact, only one story in this whole world, which involves running away from zombies and using plants to fight them. Sample narrative: “Poof! Poof! Poof! The little Puffshrooms pummel the zombies with poisonous fumes. Magnetshrooms tear the helmets off Football Zombies and rip the screens from the bony hands of Screen Door Zombies. Hypno-shrooms turn the zombies on each other.” And so on – and on and on and on, but only in little bits before another fork in the road, or fork in the story, has readers deciding which way to go next. There are a couple of endings in which the zombies eat readers’ brains and a couple in which they do not, but the story is sufficiently brainless either way to be amusing for fans of the video game on which it is based.

     As for Brain Food, it doesn’t really require much thinking, which sort of makes sense. From coloring Crazy Dave to answering trivia questions to drawing anti-zombie plants to counting zombies to unscrambling words to filling in the blanks of a story to finding the differences between two zombies, the book is filled with simple, non-brain-intensive games and puzzles that won’t really feed readers’ brains but at least won’t eat them. There are secret messages to decode, puzzles to solve, pictures to finish, dots to connect, mazes to work through, even some tic-tac-toe games to play. But most of the fun here comes from giving fans chances to see the characters they enjoy from the whole Plants vs. Zombies world: Zombot, Dr. Zomboss, Gargantuar and Imp, Jack-in-the-Box Zombie, Newspaper Zombie, Buckethead Zombie, Pogo Zombie and others. In fact, one recurring activity here involves looking at silhouettes of zombies and guessing which ones are which. There is nothing particularly difficult in this book and nothing particularly outlandish except for the underlying premise itself. As a way for Plants vs. Zombies fans to pass the time when they are not immersed in their video-game universe, Brain Food is silly fun that – who knows? – may even make fans’ brains more spicily attractive to zombies!  Oops…hmm…could that be the insidious point of the whole thing?

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