Friday, January 6, 2012

Zombies + Literacy

Essential Questions:
  • Why are zombies compelling?
  • Can ELA teachers afford to ignore a national trend?

Zombies Vs. Literacy?  Yes, the app exists - an early reading iPhone app for kids as young as 1 year.  Read about it at the App Store. I bought it - not very good, but a sound introduction to the alphabet (letters and sounds), phonic blends (and therefore rhyme), and sight words.  My 2-year old Millie loves it. BabyBinks is a developer that I have recommended, by the way.  What do they know that I am just discovering?  Zombies are trending!

Just for fun, search Amazon Children's Books for "zombies" and sort by date.  There are 368 hits, about 2/3 of them dated after 2010.  In the Books search, there are over 9,000 hits and 2011 does not appear until p.9. 

The Update [11/23/13] - Read about Zombie [tech] Ideas at Hack Education and learn about Zombie Politics with Bill Moyers.

[4/17/14 - still trending] - The Pentagon has released a zombie apocalypse defense plan. Read about it at CNN and follow a link to actual plan.  Tongue in cheek, certainly, but definitely piggy-backing on a trend.

The Rationale: Zombies have even invaded PowerPoint. Above is a screenshot from a post by Bill Ferriter - The Tempered Radical - Five Tips for Creating Powerpoint Slides...   I like his ideas, and I follow this blog.  But I was temporarily stunned by the argument made for the power of the zombie image, which to me is repulsive:
  • "Let's be honest: Audiences in today's hyper-connected, always on world have seriously fractured attention spans, y'all."
The zombie image is a grabber. Whether visually presented or stereotypically drawn in words (bleeding, blood-thirsty, brain-eating, sexless, distorted, cannibalistic, dulled to intelligent thought), it is nightmarish but mesmerizing.

So we have preK at one end of the zombie spectrum and adults (teachers) at the other.  It seems that we like to like zombiesWe like the idea of confronting the living dead. 

It turns out that this may be scientifically accurate.  Read Christina Robertson's  Why Do We Like to be 'Scared to Death' and Science Daily's Why Do People Like Horror Movies? for intelligent, if short (good for the classroom), discussions of the questions.

On the other hand, I am distressed by this summative statement from Robertson's post: "There are many ways we may choose “non-being” in our lives – by not being aware of what we think and what we are choosing, by making inauthentic decisions, by not determining our values, by following the values of others, the list is endless.  Actions leading to non-being lack authenticity and responsibility."  Psychologically, non-being is an attractive choice.  This sounds very much like the YA worldview.  One way that teachers can confront distress is to teach it - then the students help with the therapy.  We do, after all, read about a lot of distressing topics: bullying, dysfunctional families, the end of life as we know it, abuse, self-abuse, gangs, desertion, war, murder - to name a few.  Why not zombies?

So my question is this: Why are zombies an appealing choice?  Is it:
  1. because students can brainlessly interact with them (read about them, play with them, view them, laugh at them) while still feeling alive (afraid, powerful, superior, surprised, funny),  or
  2. because students instinctively identify with the concept of "non-being" and its correlatives: freedom to behave outside of the accepted moral code, and to do so without the hindrance of conscience or fear of death or physical pain, or
  3. because we can not help but grapple with the questions: What does it mean to be HUMAN? or
  4. because zombies are ugly, gawky, socially awkward, easily targeted, and - basically - victims?
  5. because zombies reflect cultural fears, appearing during those historical periods that we feel most out of control and fearful, or
  6. because of something else that students themselves can explain and define?
#2 - #6 are interesting answers for the classroom, raising zombie literacy into the realm of honest study.  Conveniently, #1 is also true, making that study attractive to kids.  So I think they deserve a PBL unit, or at least a lit circle, of their own.

The Resources: What materials are available to the literacy teacher using zombies to frame a unit?   I am assuming that this study would begin in the late middle grades, although that may be a false assumption, given the growing number of apps and visual texts with zombie content.  I personally would set the bar at 8th grade, but you have to know your class.

  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Ryan - ) - I did not read the remaining books in the series, having found this book very uneven, but many YA girls love it - interesting
  • The Undead: Zombie Anthology (stories, ed. by Snell) - many of the contemporary zombie novelists are represented - great for comparative study (plots, themes, symbols, characterization)
  • Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (stories ed. Penzler) - a collection of classic stories, some of which are the backbone of the genre
  • Book of the Dead (stories ed. Skipp) - also a Book of the Dead 2 - recommended as the best 20th century collections
  • Zombie Mommy (M.T. Anderson) - Pals in Peril series - for the 3rd - 5th crowd, by the award winning author of Feed, Octavian Nothing and other great books
  • Not Everything Brainless is Dead (Joshua Price) - 1st book in new series, exclusively for Kindle - MS will like it best
  • Day by Day Armageddon (Bourne) - journal format, making a neat twin for Brooks' World War Z and I Am Legend (film)
  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars (Brooks) - chillingly matter-of-fact narration with a hint of 19th century voice - an upcoming classic in the genre
  • The Terminal Experiment (Sawyer) - Nebula winning SF deals with electronic zombies
  • Boneshaker (Priest) - steampunk meets zombies
  • Never Slow Dance with a Zombie (Van Lowe) - chicklit meets zombies
  • You Are So Undead to Me (Jay) - young YA, easier - cheerleader zombie slayer
  • Night of the Living Dead (Andrews) - novelization of the classic film
  • I Am Legend (Matheson) - re-release of 1954 novel set in 1976 - also film and graphic novel - also a Kindle ebook summary and study guide
  • The Jumbee (Keyes) - zombie theme add suspense to this young-girl-falls-for-mysterious-guy-on-tropical-island tale
  • Cell (King) - nice for today's kids
  • Eaters of the Dead (Crichton) - classic - he does not specify zombies, but it is close - this is a great read
Children's Books - many of the newer titles use the zombie theme to "spoof" classic titles - some of these will be warm reminders of childhood - these provide great ideas for student authentic projects
  • Pat the Zombie, a Cruel Adult Spoof (Ximm) - don't go here as a parent or kid, but as a teacher I would show the book to grades 7+
  • That's Not Your Mommy Anymore: a Zombie Tale (Mogk) - may be the hottest new title
  • Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy, a Story for Demented Children (John H. Carroll) - free for Kindle and part of a series currently numbering 7 - clever!
  • Diary of a Zombie Kid GN (Perry) - yes, it's illustrated
  • Goosebumps Hall of Horrors #4 - Why I Quit Zombie School (R.L. Stine) 
  • Zombie Tag (Moskowitz)
  • Zombie in Love (DiPucchio) - picture book, early reader
  • Ten Little Zombies - a Love Story (Rash) - you know the rhyme - zombified
  • Z is for Zombie (Kutner) - not your everyday alphabet book
  • Baby Bubba Wants a New Mommy (Crenshaw and Ballard) - read this one online
  • Nobody Wants to Play With Zombie Jesus (Preble) - Kindle eBook for $.99 - yes, it is offensive

Graphic Novels and Comics - The visual art in these can be compared to the impact of word descriptions in the above - find any humor here?  why not? 
  • The Walking Dead (Kirkman), Dead Rising - for the shoot-em game players - series - sold (read online or  download for iPad) at ComiXology - not for MS
  • Shaun of the Dead (IDW Publishing) - comic book - 4 issues
  • Night of the Living Dead TP (Russo) - prequel to the film! new characters and plot additions - there is also a Vol. 2, which introduces some contemporary plot elements
  • Richard Matheson's I am Legend (graphic novel) (Niles) - from the novel and film
  • The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks (Brooks) - pair with World War Z - premise is that throughout history the zombies have been active
  • Zombies (Cole - gathering of great zombie comics - 2012 release
  • Remains - zombie attack comic/graphic novel - sold (read online or download for iPad) at ComiXology
  • They Do Not Die! (Brown) - undead at 18 in rural Alabama - girl teen protagonist
  • Infestation series (IDW) - zombie events affect the worlds of comic classics Ghostbusters, GI Joe, Star Trek, and others in this cross-over digital comic series sold (read online or download for iPad) at ComiXology
  • Many more titles can be found by searching ComiXology for "zombies"
  • Little Book of Zombie Poems (Beckett) - download .pdf file - these will appeal to struggling poets
  • Aim for the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry (ed. Peterson)
  • Magnetic Poetry Kit: Zombie (Amazon) - how cool is that for the creative classroom!
  • Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your...Brains (Mecum) - real cheap used from Amazon - these will appeal to YA, but also are quite imagistic: 
Biting into heads
is much harder than it looks.
The skull is feisty.
Drama & Scripts- not recommending these for quality, but I have skimmed them all - offered as models and for reading in class, but students can also comment on the scripts at Simply Scripts

Film, TV, media - also check out wikipedia's list of Zombie films
  • Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968 - DVD) - classic film that kicked off my own study - my middle schooler's just barely made it through this one
  • Carnival of Souls - see a trailer here
  • The Living Skeleton
  • Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012 NR, Netflix) - how can your resist?
  • Shaun of the Dead (DVD) - Rated R - but out-cuts would be excellent
  • I am Legend (2007 - PG 13 - DVD) - based on I am Legend novel - zombies are more like vampires here
  • Omega Man (1971 - PG - 1971) - based on I am Legend novel - quasi-zombie-vampires here
  • The Last Man on Earth (1964 - DVD) - based on I am Legend novel - unrated
  • The Walking Dead (TV series on DVD)
  • The Returned (French with subtitles, Sundance Channel TV, 8-part series) - Netflix
  • Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (Ormsby, 1972 - DVD - PG) - somewhat humorous
  • The Ghost Breakers (1940 - DVD) - Bob Hope comedy!  or Scared Stiff (1953) - Martin & Lewis remake
  • Michael Jackson's Thriller (YouTube)
  • We're Alive - the Zombie Podcast - best downloaded - episodes listed here - reviewed here
  • Super 8 (2011 - DVD) - kids set out to make a zombie film, but run into something else entirely

Creative non-Fiction - Informational text - Humor

Social Networking - Collaboration
  • Lost Zombies - building a collective library of images and stories - student project? - you decide 
  • Zombie Research Society - you decide - check out the blog
  • Z-Composition - students can submit poetry, art, flash fiction and other fiction to this new e-zine
  • Zombie Nation - another place for submissions: haiku, short video, comics, more - great ideas for projects
  • Kill the Zombies - submit reviews and comments after playing
  • Simply Scripts - students can read zombie screen play scripts, comment on them, and submit their own

Simulation/Games/Apps - as of Thanksgiving (a fitting time for this search) there are 2199 apps found in an iStore search for "zombie" and my own 6 year-old grandson will only play Plants vs. Zombies on the iPad, which is his first game app ever
  • Operation: Eradicate - ($1.99 app) - tactical game for the serious gamer in which assault teams work together and independently to stop - you got it - the zombie invasion
  • Zombie Virus Survival (free app) - avoid the incoming green virus
  • The Running Dead - free app - PacMan in zombieland?
  • Zombie Life - free app in the Sims tradition (problem-solving), but to advance you need to purchase gems and gold ($.99 and up) - "fantasy violence" but also problem-solving
  • Zombie Lane - free app and also a web app - competitive social game-play, so this has a creative-thinking element - to advance you need to purchase cash ($.99 and up) - "fantasy violence"
  • Zombies vs Ninja - free app - player takes on role of ninja killing zombies, so this is a point of view exercise too - to advance you need to purchase weapons ($.99 and up) - "fantasy violence"
  • Zombie Wonderland and Zombie Wonderland 2 - inventive fun destroying and mopping up zombies - app
  • Farm Destroy: Alien Zombie Attack - free strategy 3D game app - destroy a farm full of zombie animals - no in-app purchases necessary
  • My Pet Zombie - free app - like NeoPets, these zombies can be dressed, designed, fed, etc. - for the elementary school crowd (no reading necessary) - lots of cool stuff to buy for them 
  • Resident Evil - game series features zombies - also turned into an easily read novel series, by the way (Perry)
  • Kill the Zombies - on-line game play - many options
  • The Endless Zombie Rampage - social gaming - "enjoy the carnage"
  • Play Zombie Games - I like the very simple Bounzy game, which uses simply physics to eliminate zombies - the Angry Birds of zombies
Activities - Aside from those suggested by the games, apps, children's books, and media above, you might involve students in: 
  • A Zombie 5K fund-raising run - Not kidding! - to support a health-related cause - read about the real runs
  • A comparative read of a different apocalypse novel (or film viewing) - there are tons: vampires, ice age, comet crashes, moon going off course, alien invasion, plague, unknown mysterious events causing the death of all adults, pollution, war - easy to find a read for every student
  • a spoof - a spoof of a spoof is always good fun
So there you are - Zombies + Literacy = Engagement.  It's a no-brainer : ).  

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