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Z for Zanto

29 September 2020, Retail

Helping kids understand the plight of refugee children

In a world awash with information, it can be hard for parents to find the right resources to help children understand complex issues like climate change, asylum seekers and refugees. But children are keen learners. They hear the true but almost unfathomable stories of families forced to flee their homes for their lives. And they want to know more. 

Perth-based author Jayne Lyons wrote Z for Zanto to help parents and children empathise with children who are searching for freedom and safety, and to understand the challenges they face. All proceeds from sales of the book go to Save the Children’s work in supporting children to dream and make their own future. 

“This exciting adventure story opens with two strong characters, with hopes and dreams for the future,” Jayne explains. “Zanto wants to play soccer for Real Maqique like his hero Reygo – and he has the ability to succeed if allowed to develop to his full potential. Nala is clever too – she’s going to be a doctor—and she’s also a stick twirling Ultimate Fight Champion.. We meet the children as the Apocalypse begins, so that the reader can relate to their journey. They have a home and a future, but after fighting off the zombie attack, must leave everything behind and travel to the Third State just to survive, and hoping that they’ll be welcomed.” 

“However, when they reach the Third State, they succumb to infection, and are shunned as feared zombies – despite the fact they've never harmed a human.  The children’s hope fades as they realise they have no future to look forward to.  Zanto will never now be a footballer, and Nala never a doctor – because she has no access to education. But Zanto won’t give up—determined to play in the soccer final, he plans an audacious escape.”

What do zombies have to do with refugees?

Zanto’s story is a universal one. Hope is the main theme for this story. The importance of hope for disadvantaged or marginalised children. While it can be an allegory for refugees, it's more than that. It's any disadvantaged child, any isolated child—any child excluded for whatever reason.


But the idea of zombies plays an important part. “Zombies are a classic horror trope, everybody knows they are baddies and fear them. This really captures the theme of fear in the community, the fear of who might come into the country, the fear of people you don't know, maybe people who don’t look like you.” 

“But what if the zombie kids were like everybody else? What if they've got hopes and dreams? They have every child’s right to have a future free from conflict, and an education, and hope.” 
Jayne believes while children will reflect on the book’s themes, it is foremost a page-turning action adventure. “When children read the book, of course they're rooting for the kid who wants to just fulfill his dreams and have some hope for the future. The serious things are not overplayed too much. It is just fun and exciting—with lots of great zombie action. Because that's the best way to talk to kids, they've got to be able to be involved in the story. The kids who have read it have absolutely loved it!”

The parallels with COVID-19 quarantine

While the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, Jayne notes, the fear and uncertainty children are experiencing can also help them empathise with her characters. “Although I wrote this book long before the lockdown, the pandemic has just allowed it to be seen in a different light. The book is about a zombie affliction landing in the world and kids disrupted and being frightened and not sure of the future—so that was just art mirroring life.

Kids know the feeling of being in lockdown, having restrictions on what they can do, and being frustrated and bored. It can make the feelings and journeys of the characters more relatable.


Ultimately, it’s a book she hopes can make a real change to the way we think about children seeking asylum, living in poverty, and searching for freedom to achieve their dreams. “One of the key elements that I hope resonates with children is the understanding that some people are different to you, and just because you might fear them doesn't actually mean you can't get to know them and empathise with them. I've seen the challenges refugee and asylum seeker children face. But I feel very strongly that we can support giving those children a hope of a future where they can develop to their full potential. For me education and opportunity are the key for that.”

  • Jayne Lyons is an internationally published, award winning children’s author. You can find out about her other books, film, and tv projects on her website at

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