restricted access The Zero Degree Zombie Zone
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The Zero Degree Zombie Zone

inline graphicAlthough it took nearly seven years to bear fruit, a lunch meeting in 2007 between Andrea Davis Pinkney, a vice president and executive editor at Scholastic Press, and Patrik Bass, an editorial projects editor at Essence, eventually led to the publication of The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, an adventure story featuring four African American middle-school friends. As they had chatted over their meal, Andrea and Patrik realized that the solution to the sense of frustration they both felt at the lack of children’s books with protagonists of color was right in front of them: Patrik would write a story and Andrea would publish it. They later agreed that Jerry Craft would be the perfect artist to create the book’s illustrations.

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, published in August 2014, tells the story of a day in the life of Bakari Katari Johnson, a shy boy who is coping with everyday bullies when the school is suddenly overrun with zombies. Fortunately, he has three good friends to inspire and assist him, and through some resourcefulness and steadfast courage at a crucial moment, Bakari manages to save the day. Patrik tells the story with good humor, while Jerry’s bold illustrations of the friends’ adventure adds a deft visual component.

I conducted this email interview with Patrik and Jerry over the course of a couple of weeks at the end of October 2014. What follows is a lightly edited version. You can view more of Jerry’s work at

Jim McWilliams:

Please tell me about your backgrounds. Do you remember the first books you read? Did you have parents or mentors who inspired you as readers?

Patrik Henry Bass:

I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and lived there until I was ten. I’m the youngest of four. We lived in a mixed-income high-rise in the mid-1970s, so I was fortunate to have been surrounded by African Americans from diverse backgrounds economically and culturally, and whenever I had the chance to visit I always saw books. My mother was a member of the Doubleday Book Club, so we always had books in our home. My father read two daily newspapers. I was an early reader—I believe as young as three—and was obsessed with stories and storytelling early on. During the summer, my mother sent us to stay with her parents in rural Laurinburg, North Carolina (where we would eventually move when I was in the fifth grade). The summer heat there was brutal and my grandparents did not have air conditioning, so my cousins and I would escape to the local library, which had a fountain with ice-cold water. It was tiny, clean, and well-lit. There were all the familiar books for young people my age—Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, the brothers Grimm. I read them all, but the first book that made an impression on me was Roald Dahl’s Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (1964). It was the first book that I finished and read it again, and then again.

Jerry Craft:

I grew up in the Washington Heights section of New York City, which is just above Harlem. I was the baby of the family; my sister and brother were nine and ten years older. The first books I remember reading were Dr. Seuss’s. I still have vivid memories of Hop on Pop (1963) and I Wish That I Had Duck Feet (1965). In school, I remember the Dick and Jane books. I don’t remember my parents reading to me after that stage of my life. I saw them read more newspapers and magazines than books.

After that, it was years, and I mean years, until I enjoyed reading anything but Marvel comics again. I did the required reading for school, and was an honor roll student, but it definitely wasn’t anything that I enjoyed in the least. I was a grown man before I read a book for enjoyment again. So it’s very ironic that I now illustrate and write books. I think the reason...