January 26, 2012


What Happens to Our Trash? By D.J. Ward. Illustrated by Paul Meisel. Collins. $5.99.

The Zombie Chasers #3: Sludgment Day. By John Kloepfer. Illustrated by Steve Wolfhard. Harper. $15.99.

     Five pounds of trash per person per day – that is the garbage output of the United States. And that is just one of the pieces of information in the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science book called What Happens to Our Trash? A “Stage 2” paperback for ages 5-9, short and easy to read, D.J. Ward’s book is nevertheless packed with important information for children wondering what they can do to help clean up the environment and make a cleaner world for themselves to enjoy when they grow up. Ward, a high-school science teacher, is careful to balance the pluses and minuses of various approaches to trash control. For example, he points out that “some cities burn their trash. …That puts the trash to good use. But burning trash causes problems, too. It can pollute the air. And it’s expensive.” Paul Meisel’s colorful illustrations help mitigate what could be a relentlessly depressing message about drowning ourselves in our own waste. For instance, he shows a boy looking glum, despite the amusing image behind him, which goes with the words, “The amount of trash produced in America annually can fill up enough garbage trucks, lined up end to end, to reach the moon.” Other illustrations show the clay and plastic liners used in landfills; how methane is turned into electricity (this picture is in the form of a child’s class project); and how everyone can help reduce garbage accumulation. This “what to do” element is the heart of the book, and it is somewhat oversimplified. “Bring our own bags to the store and use them instead of throwaway bags” is a good idea, for example, but Ward does not mention that there are health risks to reusable bags that have led some stores to stop selling them. “Buy a big bag of snacks instead of lots of little bags” makes sense unless it leads to overeating of the snacks (contributing to obesity, itself a significant problem) or results in the snacks going stale before they are used and ending up as trash themselves (as well as a waste of money). Still, this short book does not claim to be comprehensive, and it is certainly an effective starting point for family and class discussions of environmental and ecological issues – and what individuals, including kids, can do about them.

     Trash is played for laughs in Sludgment Day, the conclusion of John Kloepfer’s Zombie Chasers trilogy. But then, so is brain-eating; and for that matter, so is fashion: “The zombie man wore a tight white jumpsuit with a bald eagle bedazzled on the front. Thick curly chest hair spilled out of the V-neck, all matted with sludge.” OK, we get it; and OK, yuck. Kids ages 8-12 who like gross-out scenes of messy monsters (and heroic preteens fighting them) are the target audience for Kloepfer’s writing and Steve Wolfhard’s aptly unpleasant illustrations, which the publisher resisted the temptation to call “ILL-ustrations.” The thing about zombies is, you see, they are, like, dead and reanimated, so this would seem to be a problem for the kids after a “zombie virus” attacks their parents, acquaintances, neighbors and most of the country. But not to worry: this being a virus rather than a kill-and-reanimate thingie, it can be fought and eventually reversed, which is just what Zack Clarke and his friends Rice, Madison, Ozzie and Zoe are doing now that they have found the antidote. The first Zombie Chasers book was Kloepfer’s debut novel, and his style has not exactly matured in the sequels. “As he entered the men’s room he could hear the distant din of the zombie plague droning outside the rest stop.” “The sun blazed brightly in the clear blue sky as they sped along the northbound highway up the east bank of the Mississippi River. An infinity of zombies stumbled over the rolling hillsides, casting long shadows in the morning light.” “Red viral streaks climbed up his neck, and his skin turned a deep shade of green. The zombifying bully dropped to his knees, frothing at the mouth, then fell limp on the pavement.” You get the idea. This book gets a (+++) rating for bringing the trilogy to a suitably messy but triumphant end, and for the fact that the illustrations are so ridiculously overdone that they manage to be simultaneously gross and silly – which, of course, is the point of this whole endeavor.

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