True Stories of Nature’s Undead

By Rebecca L. Johnson

Millbrook. $30.60. Ages 9-14

“Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead” by Rebecca L. Johnson. (21st Century)

“Walking Dead” episodes aside, the Zombie Apocalypse has yet to strike the human population in real life. But as Rebecca L. Johnson’s creepy and fascinating new book for children shows, plenty of unfortunate creatures out there get invaded and infected, just like the hollow-eyed zombies that slowly and steadily shuffle through American pop culture. We used to call the worms and insects that take advantage of other species “parasites,” which they are, but “zombies” aptly describes those parasites that “take over the bodies and brains of innocent creatures,” forcing them to act in self-destructive ways. Each of Johnson’s lively chapters features a “zombie trait” (such as “Obeys commands without question”) and two examples of wild creatures that display them. Full of close-up photographs, these chapters explain precisely how the parasites run roughshod over their unknowing hosts. Readers can see a 3-foot hairworm emerging from a 3-centimeter cricket and multiple wasp larvae crawling out of a depleted moth caterpillar. Johnson also explains recent scientific advances that allow us to pinpoint the changes in a victim’s brain and body. The scariest example — and photo — might be the guinea worm disease that infected 3.5 million people by 1986. Water filters have since reduced the disease to just 1,000 new cases a year. Johnson’s book is the stuff of nightmares as well as scientific progress.

Abby McGanney Nolan