In 2009, I went to a baby shower. I thought the host’s new son needed a book that could inoculate him to monsters and wizards from a very young age, as the parents were huge science fiction and fantasy fans. No doubt the boy would grow up with Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes playing on the TV and stumble across The Walking Dead graphic novels on their shelves. Stopping by a bookstore for a gift, I was dismayed to find the books for young children about monsters were of the “Tickle the Fluffy Pink Monster’s Belly” variety. Disappointed, Ibought an unmemorable book and on the way to the shower thought: “There ought to be a baby book about zombies.” I started dreaming up little lines and couplets, but I thought, “I’d never be able to do this without an illustrator, and I don’t know any.”
When I arrived at the party, I didn’t know anyone, and I introduced myself to the first person I met. “I’m Marc Scheff. What do I do? I’m a fantasy illustrator.”
Though it’s a silly concept, the book is designed to support the literary and intellectual development of pre-literate readers. The pacing of the book–consistent sentences for 2/3 of the book, slight change towards the end, return to pacing for the finish–is taken directly from Eric Carle (we did Brown Bear with zombies). The repetition of the sentence structure allows pre-literate readers to make predictions, recognize patterns, and begin to learn that orthographic marks (letters) that are arranged consistently can be decoded as words. Hidden within the images are a series of Where’s Waldo like gags, where features from one panel are replicated in the next panel. The overt story of the book–that babies are zombies–thinly covers a subtext that it’s actually the parents who are turned into zombies (just as children don’t realize, as parents do, that the bunny in Goodnight Moon is just stalling). The slightly spooky nature of the material borrows insights from Maurice Sendak and E.B. White, who recognized all humans, even very young ones, enjoy experiencing the full range of human emotions.