I’m thrilled to be participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day this year, and to have the opportunity to speak with Jacqueline Jules, author of Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow, the fifth book in the Zapato Power series.
Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow (Zapato Power, #5)
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Miguel Benítez
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Pub Date: March 1, 2014
Review copy received: Author/MCCBD
From the jacket copy: When a freak spring blizzard buries Starwood Park, Freddie works with Mr. Vaslov to clear the sidewalks using a new invention–Zapato Power snowshoes! But not even the snow can stop a thief from causing trouble in the neighborhood. Can Freddie solve the case, even if it means helping Erika, the Starwood Park bully?
I’d love to hear more about the genesis of Zapato Power as a series and Freddie Ramos as a character. How did you get the idea for Freddie’s special shoes? Who was the inspiration for Freddie Ramos?
Freddie was the name of a student I taught as a librarian in a Title 1 elementary school. He was one of several boys who were always asking me for superhero books. My library had only a few battered copies of superhero themed stories and the kids fought over them. When I tried to find more superhero titles for my library collection, I found that most of the books were above the reading level of my elementary school students, many of whom were English Language Learners. This inspired me to try my hand at writing an easy-to-read about a boy with superpowers.
The shoe idea came from own sons who always thought a new pair of sneakers would help them run faster. (That is, when they were young. They are grown-ups now.) But the character of Freddie was entirely based on my students. Since they were the ones clamoring for a superhero story, I decided to write a book not only for them, but about them. Freddie’s name and the names of all the child characters come from the school where I taught. Freddie’s apartment complex is based on the housing development behind the elementary school where many of my students lived. Families really did camp out at the school during a winter break when there was a problem in one of the buildings, just as in Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow.
In speaking of the limited and limiting portrayals of women in the media, Jennifer Siebel Newsom has noted that, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Freddie Ramos is a Spanish-speaking superhero who defends his friends, solves a crime and helps around his apartment complex. What do you hope that readers see when they look at Freddie Ramos and his adventures?
It bothered me as a teacher and a librarian that most of the books I had on my shelves did not reflect my student’s lives. I was asking my students to learn to read with stories about middle-class white children who lived with two parents in a single family dwelling. What’s more, the books that did feature more diversity seemed to be about the challenges of being a minority. My students were happy kids, comfortable with their lives. They deserved to see themselves depicted in literature in a natural way, not as a problem to be solved. Personally, I like the term “casual diversity.” To me it means that there is absolutely nothing odd about a Hispanic child who is a superhero. No one questions the validity of a white superhero. Why should a non-white hero seem out of place? I want my readers to connect with Freddie Ramos as a character first and think about his cultural identity second. While I am proud of being a Jew, I don’t want to be identified only as a Jewish woman. I am a multi-faceted person. My minority religion should not override every other aspect of my existence. And that’s what I want for Freddie.
Spiderman is told “With great power comes great responsibility.” I was also intrigued by Freddie’s moral dilemma, especially when he asks, “Do superheroes have to help people they don’t like?” (50). What would you say Freddie Ramos’s moral code is when it comes to his zapato power?
The thing I like best about Freddie is that he has a good heart. As soon as he learns he has super speed, he looks for ways to rescue people. One of his main frustrations is that there are not enough superhero jobs at an elementary school. Many kids dream of superpowers but they have no idea of what they would do if the dream came true. In writing Zapato Power, I imagined how my students would react to having their fantasy realized. Since I often saw them take care of each other, particularly the students who had recently arrived in the United States, it was only natural for Freddie Ramos to be a boy interested in helping others.
One of the first things that stood out to me when reading Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow was the voice. Was first person a conscious decision? Did you try different points of view before you decided on a first person voice?
Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow is the fifth book in the Zapato Power series. The first book, Freddie Ramos Takes Off was re-written at least twenty times. By the time it was ready for publication, I had his voice in my head. I still do. Freddie is a real person to me. I know what he would say and what he wouldn’t say. I understand the way he views the world. While the first book underwent massive revisions, starting from a 1,000 word easy reader to a 5,000 word early chapter book, it was always written in first person. Since childhood, I have been an avid reader. I enjoy all kinds of genres, including non-fiction, but my favorite is first person narrative. It is my first choice as a writer, too. If something doesn’t work in first person, I try it in third person, not the other way around.
I also enjoyed the way that the Spanish language was woven into the text for both speakers and non-speakers, as many writers struggle with adding dialogue, dialect and/or a second language in a way that feels natural. In a young chapter book, I’d imagine that balancing the needs of both Spanish and non-Spanish speakers, the needs of all early readers, and needs of the craft would be more difficult than in some other formats. Could you share any guidelines or tools that you used as a writer?
My background as a teacher and librarian helps me with this. When I read a children’s book, I often evaluate it in terms of how students might like it in a story time setting. Would I get blank stares? Would the kids be restless and bored? What would require explanation? Teaching has given me a sixth sense about many of these things, mostly through trial and error. My recommendation would be to think about your reader. Will something be clear to him or her?
The narrator has some great one liners, like, “Some people can be bought with guacamole. Gio is one of them” (63). What would you say to authors looking to add a little humor for young readers into their work?
Listen to kids. They often say very cute things. If you base your characters on children you know (students, sons, daughters, nephews, neighbors, etc.) you will hear funny lines you can adapt in your writing.
I’m going to turn to one of your classroom questions and ask, “If you could have only one super power, what would it be?”
Long before I wrote the Zapato Power series, I used to discuss this question with students when I read a classic folktale called The Seven Chinese Brothers. In this story, seven brothers each possess a specific power such as super hearing, super sight, super strength, etc. My classes and I had fun debates over which brother’s power was the best. If I had to choose, I think I would choose super sight. I love nature and to be able to look out of my window and see a beautiful forest or ocean faraway would be amazing.
Finally, is there anything I neglected to ask you that you would like to share?
I have a new series coming out on February 1st called Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure with Picture Window Books. Sofia is a spunky seven year old who is always trying to be the center of attention in her big extended family. Please visit my website to read more about Sofia and my other titles. www.jacquelinejules.com
Thank you for stopping by, Jacqueline!
More about Multicultural Children’s Book Day…
The mission of Multicultural Children’s Book Day is to raise awareness for kid’s books that celebrate diversity, and to get more of these books into classrooms and libraries. The co-creators are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can also find the list of co-hosts here.
MCCBD is also collaborating with Children’s Book Council to highlight wonderful diversity books and authors on an ongoing basis all year.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2015 sponsors include Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Daybreak Press Global Bookshop, Gold Sponsors: Satya House, MulticulturalKids.com, Author Stephen Hodges and the Magic Poof, Silver Sponsors: Junior Library Guild, Capstone Publishing, Lee and Low Books, The Omnibus Publishing, Bronze Sponsors: Double Dutch Dolls, Bliss Group Books, Author Richa Jha, Rainbow Books, Author Felicia Capers, Chronicle Books, Muslim Writers Publishing, East West Discovery Press.