Cover Reveal: 'Haru, Zombie Dog Hero' by Ellen Oh

Get the first look at the cover for Ellen Oh's Haru, Zombie Dog Hero, which will bring the fright to middle grade readers in July 2023. 

   Author Ellen Oh with dogs Kiko (left) and Tokki.                                                      Photo by Susie James Photography

School Library Journal has an exclusive first look at the cover for Ellen Oh's forthcoming middle grade novel Haru, Zombie Dog Hero. SLJ asked Oh about the book, its inspiration, dogs, and writing horror for middle grade readers.

School Library Journal: This is a book about a dog who is a zombie and a hero. Are you a dog lover? Do you have dogs, and how did that inform your writing?

Ellen Oh: I am a huge dog lover! I have 2 dogsTokki, a grumpy old Coton who bites, and Kiko, a sweet Goldendoodle who is shy and loves everyone. They are absolutely the reason I wrote a book about a dog hero. They make me a better human, and every day of my life is better just by having them in my life.

SLJ: How did the idea for this book come about?

EO: Well, I’ve always wanted to write a zombie book, ever since I saw Train to Busan. But I wasn’t interested in writing about regular old zombies. I wanted something different; I just didn’t know what that was. Then one day I was just sitting with my dogs, and they were staring at me with such absolute trust and love. At that moment, I thought to myself, even if my dogs turned into zombies, they would never hurt me. And just like that, the idea for Haru, Zombie Dog Hero came to me.

SLJ: What excites you most about this book?

EO: ZOMBIES!!! But also dogs, because dogs are the best. And for cat lovers, there is the sweetest little cat that you’ll be rooting for! I myself am terribly allergic, but I do love the idea of cats! I just can’t live with them. Most importantly, this book is about the relationship between a kid and his dog who is his best friend. And the belief that love is such a powerful force. Lastly, it’s a zombie story with a main character who just happens to be Korean American. It’s not a story about being Korean American. And that was important to me.

SLJ: Why do you like horror?

EO: It’s definitely my dad’s fault. He was always telling me scary stories that would leave me too scared to sleep at night. I then became a kid who was much too young to be obsessed with Stephen King novels and classic old horror movies. I remember how every October, I would be glued to the ABC 4:30 afternoon monster movies. I even remember when they stopped playing them in the '80s and being so sad because I loved them so much. There’s something really awesome and nostalgic about the old classic horror movies. And I try to recreate that feeling in my books. That insidious terror that creeps up on you and stretches your nerves really tight right before the big jump scare that sends you screaming. There’s something so cathartic about the rush of adrenaline that a good scare can give you. It allows you to forget about your own worries and control the stress, fear, and anxiety yourself by deciding whether or not you want to keep reading. And the greatest part of scary books is that when you finish it, that stress, fear, and anxiety is over, and provides such great relief from the tension of the story. It’s like that relief when you get off of the worst rollercoaster ride, feeling so glad it’s over.

SLJ: What is the challenge of writing scary books for middle grade readers?

EO: The biggest challenge, of course, is how scary is too scary? But to be honest, I don’t worry about that as I write. I just focus on the story and how much I can creep myself out. That’s the only way I know that I’m writing something scary. I have to be uncomfortable and frightened of my own words. I have to ramp up the tension inside of myself so I can portray it accurately. If I find myself getting goosebumps and being paranoid, wondering if something is in the room with me, or who’s creeping up behind me, then I know I’m on the right track. I don’t worry about whether or not it’s too scary until after I get feedback from my editor. And grown-ups underestimate kids all the time. I’ve had adults tell me that my book scared them badly and kid readers telling me it wasn’t scary enough! I love that.

SLJ: Who is the cover illustrator and what did you think when you first saw it?

EO: Well, I have to start with my brilliant art director at HarperCollins, Joel Tippie. He has always known what works best for my books. Every cover has been brilliant. But this one absolutely blew me away! Teo Skaffa is just incredible! He absolutely nailed it and I fell in love immediately!

And here is that "incredible" cover for Haru, Zombie Dog Hero, which is scheduled to be released July 11, 2023:

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