By Jacqueline Julies, Illustrated by Miguel Benitez
Published by: Albert Whitman & Company (March 1, 2010)
Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK
At the time of this review there were five books in the Zapato Power series.
“Zoom! Zoom! Zapato!”
That infectious phrase, repeated throughout this simple yet potent little chapter book, begs to be said out loud. Put this book in the hands of a second grader and prepare to hear the phrase yelled within minutes. That kind of enthusiasm is priceless for the growing mind of the reluctant or emerging reader.
But this is just one of the many reasons Zapato Power proves itself an excellent chapter book. The deceivingly simple type, illustrations and sentence structure invite the reader, particularly boys. There is nothing in this book that intimidates.
And yet. Once in the story, we find a full and complex world. Freddie, our protagonist, lives a reality where uncles can send gifts only after bills have been paid, mothers go to community college, good grades are important, spelling mistakes are made with comic results and bathroom humor appears just enough to add sneaky laughs. As a bonus, Spanish vocabulary and Hispanic culture are laced throughout.
A quiet but important undertone is evidenced by Freddie’s soldier dad. Here is how we hear of him: “The first time he went away, he came back just fine. The second time, he didn’t. But everyone at his funeral called him a hero.”
This heartbreakingly eloquent explanation is spare enough to be true, simple enough to avoid melodrama. Freddie’s dad casts a quiet but long impression as Freddie, too, works to be a hero. And he accomplishes this from both a civil and personal point, showing that one boy can affect the world.
All this might make you think this is a heavy, serious story. Not so. On the surface, Zapato Power is just a cute little mystery about a pair of magical sneakers. But it’s no mystery why its subtle strength leaves a positive impression that will stay with young readers long past the last, funny page.
What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….