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Zombie Makers


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About the Author

Rebecca L. Johnson writes award-winning nonfiction for children and young adults about scientific discoveries and the scientists who make them. She hopes her books will inspire new generations of scientists by introducing readers to some of the remarkable species with whom we share the planet. Learn more at www.rebeccajohnsonbooks.com.


"Ratchet up your ick-factor and practice your eeyuw's because Johnson's researched text will reveal enough details to cause squeamish (or highly imaginative) readers to quail. Hairworms that cause crickets to commit suicide; jewel wasps that turn cockroaches into walking pantries for their larvae; and a fungus that drives its ant host to find the perfect launch for its sporing body are just a few of the 'zombie-makers' Johnson introduces. The readable text is based on telephone calls and emails with scientists in the field as well as the published articles listed in the bibliography. The author is careful to include a 'Science Behind the Story' explanation for each of the featured parasites, quoting the research scientist whenever possible. Color photos reinforce the ickiness, as do splotches of red, green, and black creeping across the pages like patches of mold. Readers needing a more personal jolt may prefer Nicola Davies's more gentle (but still nicely gross) What's Eating You?: Parasite--The Inside Story (Candlewick, 2007) or Brian Ward's more prosaic Microscopic Life in the Home (Smart Apple Media, 2004). Scientific in its approach, this slender book gives children a look at scientific research in real time, and also shows how little we truly know in a less-than-lovely field." --starred, School Library Journal


"Solid (sometimes writhing) proof that the scariest zombie flicks have nothing on Nature.To demonstrate that there are indeed real zombies--'closer than you think'--Johnson (Journey into the Deep, 2010; iPad app, 2011) introduces a select set of fungi, worms, viruses and wasps that invade the bodies and take over the brains of their victims. Enhanced by large and often deliciously disturbing color photos, her descriptions of each parasite's lifecycle is both specific and astonishing; not only does the fungus O. unilateralis force a carpenter ant to clamp itself to a leaf (before sending a long reproductive stalk out of its head) for instance, it even somehow strengthens the ant's mouth muscles. The author tracks similarly focused physical and behavioral changes not just in insects, but in other creatures too, including rabies-infected mammals. Lest human readers feel left out of the picture, she mentions the protozoan T. gondii, which causes rats to engage in reckless behavior and also has infected up to a quarter of all the adults and teens in this country. In each chapter, Johnson reports back on conversations with scientists engaged in relevant research, and she closes with a quick look at telling signs in the fossil record.Science writing at its grossest and best, though as the title (not to mention the blood-spattered pages) warns, not for the squeamish." (author's note, glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index) (Nonfiction.10-13) --starred, Kirkus Reviews


"Everyone knows zombies aren't real, don't they? After reading Johnson's inventively imagined book, readers won't be so sure. From a fungus to a hairworm, a guinea worm to a virus, and a flatworm to a parasite, there exists one commonality of these creatures' assaults upon a host: the brain of the host is altered and, in most instances, commandeered. One might assume these exotic attackers are prevalent in far-flung locales, but that supposition is frighteningly false: many are found in North America. Text, graphics, photos, illustrations, and the use of bloodred in the general design combine to create this gross-but-I-can't-put-it-down book. Each chapter follows the same format: introducing the organism (with quick facts in boxed inserts), discussing its life cycle and how it captures the host's brain, and concluding with 'The Science behind the Story.' And Johnson never lets up on the creatures' similarities to zombies: 'Zombie Trait #2: Obeys commands without question. Will even die trying.' Disgustingly good." --Booklist Online

"An apropos tie-in with pop culture, Johnson's comparison between fictional zombies and outre fungi and parasites slays reader apathy from the first glimpse of the cover art. The author bases scientific writings on biological research, which she incorporates in such terms as Lyssavirus and Ampulex compressa. Setting the example of fearlessly delving into nature's arcana, she presents cause-and-effect relationships between parasites and their hosts, and corroborates each pairing with graphic, sometimes disturbing, photography. Descriptions of each case of miniature zombies empower statements with action verbs--clamped, anchoring, wriggles, swoop, munching--and the identification of scientists who investigate bizarre occurrences, such as the snail dinner disguise and the fossilization of insects in amber. Glossing clarifies essential terms--reproduction, host, evolve, spore--in brief, straight-forward [sic] language. A bibliography suggests current books, articles, and websites for substantiation and further reading.
"A not-for-everyone resource for elementary and middle school and public libraries, this book guarantees an intense read for the nature sleuth."

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