By Jacqueline Jules, for The Children’s Book Review
Published: December 6, 2010
TCBR: Can you tell us what inspired you to begin writing the Zapato Power book series?
Jacqueline Jules: Zapato Power was inspired by students I taught when I was working as a school librarian in a Title I school. The second book in the series, Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Springs into Action, is dedicated to them.
My students, particularly the little boys, kept asking for a book about superheroes. I don’t work in that particular school anymore, but I still see myself standing by the Easy Reader section of the library, trying to help a little boy find a book that interested him. He wanted something about superheroes, but I didn’t have anything on his reading level. At that moment, I decided I wanted to write a series for boys featuring a hero, just his age and on his reading level. The character of Freddie Ramos is modeled after the very lovable, good-natured Hispanic children I taught. Freddie lives in an apartment building right behind his elementary school. Many of my students lived in a large apartment complex behind our school. Many of my students lived in one-parent households with limited incomes. So does Freddie. But the sometimes difficult circumstances of my students’ lives did not overpower them. For the most part, they were cheerful and loving. These students were heroes to me, and writing a book modeled on their lives, about a little boy who becomes a superhero, was my tribute to them.
TCBR: Superhero books and movies are almost always a huge hit amongst children and adults, alike. Why do you think that is?
JJ: I think we all dream of being able to do more than we are currently able to. We all secretly wish or not-so-secretly wish to have the ability to make an impact on our community and the world in general. And that’s what superheroes do. They save people. They help others. More importantly, superheroes triumph over evil. In a world, where we often feel helpless, superheroes help us feel powerful, because we like to identify with the superhero persona.
TCBR: Of all the superpowers that have been imagined and are waiting to be imagined, why do you think super speed was the best choice for Freddie?
JJ: When I do author appearances, I often asked my young audiences to name the one super power they would like to have, if they could choose just one. The answers are varied, of course, but the two top choices are the ability to fly and the ability to go fast. In my mind, having super-powered purple sneakers that allow you to go super fast has most of the advantages of flying. And special sneakers intrigued me more as a plot line than wings or some other apparatus for flying.
TCBR: Putting aside Freddie’s superpower, what would you say is his best personality trait?
JJ: Freddie has a genuine desire to help others. He is a caring person. I like that quality about him the best.
But I also like the way Freddie looks at the world. He’s become a real person to me. I can hear his voice inside my head, when I write. On several occasions, while writing the sequels, I have typed a line and said to myself, “That’s a Freddie thing to say. Or that’s the way Freddie would look at this.”
TCBR: I think its pretty neat that he is bilingual.
JJ: As I said earlier, Freddie is modeled after students I taught. They were bilingual, so Freddie is, too.
TCBR: Miguel Benitez’s comic-book-style illustrations add plenty of extra character to the pages and really bring Freddie to life. Did you always imagine the series as a bridge between comic books and chapter books for the early-reader, or did it just take on this feel as the project progressed?
JJ: I had wanted the series to be a bridge between easy readers and longer chapter books, but I had not actually thought about comic books. I was thrilled when Albert Whitman said they wanted the first Zapato Power book to be heavily illustrated. And when I first saw the book’s illustrations, I was even more delighted. I love the double-page spread in the beginning, where Freddie is racing the train, and he bursts out of a comic book panel. One of the great things about children’s publishing is that it is such a collaboration. The editor, the illustrator, and the designer all contribute ideas to create a better book than I could on my own. I enjoy being part of something bigger than myself and seeing my books take off in new directions with the help of other creative thinkers dedicated to children’s literature.
TCBR: Book one, Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, raises the question: What would you do if you had super speed? So, Mrs. Jules, what would you do if you had super speed?
JJ: I would love to have super speed. I could get all the mundane chores of living finished more quickly. Time is my most treasured commodity. I’d get all my shopping, cooking, and housework done super fast, so I would have more time to write and spend with my family.
TCBR: The sequel, Freddie Ramos Springs into Action, tackles an even bigger query: Can you be a hero and still go to elementary school? Would you say that book two is a lesson in self-acceptance or a lesson in time management?
JJ: In Book 2, Freddie learns how to control his powers. He also learns a little bit about his own personal limits. It’s not that easy to be a superhero. Sometimes it gets you in tight spots, and it is not so easy to explain your mysterious behavior. Freddie is still struggling to find a way to be a hero and a regular kid at the same time. He doesn’t quite work it all out in Book 2, but he comes much closer in Book 3, when he has a chance for a big rescue. To write the Zapato Power books, I did some research into the myth of the superhero. In the comic books, Superman loses his powers and regains them many times. He is challenged by Kryptonite. Readers find it intriguing to see Superman manage his powers and overcome challenges. Watching a hero struggle with the issues involved, such as concealment of superpowers or loss of control, gives us the opportunity to wonder what we would do. I hope young readers identify with Freddie Ramos in the same way.
TCBR: Can we expect to see more Zapato Power books?
JJ: The third book in the series, Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue will be released by Albert Whitman on March 1, 2011.
TCBR: You have written many children’s books. 22 in total, correct?
JJ: Yes, my 22nd book will be released in March. But I have more in the works. Keep your fingers crossed for me that they will see their way to publication, too.
TCBR: Which book do you feel has had the biggest impact on your writing career?
JJ: No English, published in 2007 by Mitten Press, brought my work to a wider, more general audience for the first time. No English is a picture book about two second graders who find a creative way to overcome a language barrier. It was also inspired by my work as a public school librarian. Before No English, all of my books were created and published for the religious market, specifically Jewish children. While I still write for the Jewish children’s market, I was happy to have the opportunity to share my stories in public school settings, too.
TCBR: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
JJ: Please take a peek at my website at www.jacquelinejules.com to learn more about my books and check out my new book trailer on the Zapato Power series:
Thanks for interviewing me.
TCBR: You’re welcome. It was our pleasure!
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