The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless Book Poster Image
Silly series starter about wannabe villain.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is the first book in a series, and short chapters, high adventure, and comic book art make this a good choice for reluctant readers.

Positive Messages

The message of the book is "you can't always judge a book by its cover." Zachary may look sweet -- and blink a lot -- but he is actually always plotting evil. Meanwhile Amanada Goodbar (who is limp-haired and never blinks) gets blamed for Zachary's schemes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

You certainly wouldn't want your kids acting like Zachary, who puts a box of spiders in Amanda Goodbar's locker and later tries to hypnotize the mayor so that the evil organization SOURBALLS will accept him as a member. But Zachary does inadvertently thwart evil schemes. His freckled henchman is a loyal friend who even leaps in front of Zachary to save him from being squirted by mustard -- and compliments him on his improving evil laugh.

Violence & Scariness

The violence remains comic book-style: Zachary plays pranks including using glasses he bought at evilbadguysstuff.com to hypnotize the mayor. He also uncovers two weapons in Capitol Hall, including a rocket that will somehow destroy all life on earth. After a thwarted attempt to tie up Zachary and Newt, two security guards bash heads and knock themselves out. Nothing is scary nor meant to be taken seriously.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the protagonist of this humorous book is a manipulative boy who dreams of being an evil villain -- and actually does pull some mean pranks (like putting a box of spiders in a girl's locker). It's a far-fetched story and not meant to be taken seriously: For example, he shops at a website called evilbadguystuff.com, reads Super Villain Weekly, and turns the mayor into a zombie using a a laser. This is the first book in a series, and short chapters, high adventure, and comic book art make this a good choice for reluctant readers.

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What's the story?

Zachary Ruthless appears to be a good kid -- he blinks a lot "and everyone knows people who are good and kind sweet blink a lot." He appears so good in fact that his parents plan for him to spend his summer at Sister Celia's School for Good Samaritans. But Zachary has other plans: Pulling off a prank evil enough to earn him entry into the wickedest society of all: The Society of Utterly Rotten, Beastly and Loathsome Lawbreaking Scoundrels (or SOURBALLS). But can Zachary, his freckled henchman Newt, and a box of close-out items from evilbadguystuff.com really take down Mayor Mudfrogg and the town of Plentyville?

Is it any good?

This is a fun first installment of a new series, and a good choice for reluctant readers ready to move past Captain Underpants into another silly adventure. The chapters are short, the wacky plot never stops moving, and readers will find plenty to laugh at throughout the book. Zachary may be a wannabe evil mastermind -- he hasn't quite mastered his cackle and has to shop the close-out items on evilbadguystuff.com -- but readers will be impressed that he remains committed to being rotten throughout (when he begins searching for the mayor's zombie laser, his freckled henchman Newt assumes he plans to destroy it and save the town. Really Zachary wants to use the laser himself. "Saving the town is kind of against the whole point of this," Zachary reminds Newt). He's also got some style, shuddering at the bad puns thrown about by the book's other evil characters.

Clever comic book-style illustrations of famous evil villains, such as Dr. Felonious Freckles (whose freckles are in the shape of small rats) and instruments of evil (like a rocket that will destroy all life that has the words "Happy Fuzzy Children's Books" printed on its side to disguise it), add to the book's humorous, far-fetched tone -- and will keep kids flipping through pages. And looking forward to the next rotten adventure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bad guys. Can you think of other books and movies that have a villain as the star? Most books for kids have a lesson at the end -- but does Zachary change at all here?

  • What did you think of the book's illustrations? Do they make the story easier or more interesting to read? Would the tone of the book have been different without them?

Book details

For kids who love graphic novels and fantasy stuff

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