Debbie Zapata is the author of the children’s book UP AND ADAM.
TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?
DZ: As a child I loved to write stories. It wasn’t until my son was born with Down syndrome, that the story concept for Up and Adam took shape. While many people focused on what my young son couldn’t do, I concentrated on his strengths. He showed me that he is smart and strong. He reminds others to practice patience, share the gift of a smile, and take time to have fun. Over the years, new story details would come to me. For example, I envisioned a seaside town for the setting. When hurricane Sandy struck New York City, where I used to live, I knew the story would include a big storm. I wrote a first draft version for my son’s student of the week project. Six years later, it is my debut picture book. In the story, Adam and his dog, Up, help their neighbors in the aftermath of a storm, lifting spirits as they go. It is a story about inclusivity and community, designed for readers of all ages and abilities.
TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?
DZ: Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero (HarperCollins, 2021) by Megan Hoyt is a picture book that has it all! It’s a true story about a humble man who saved many lives while risking his own. There are many painful truths about the power of evil during the Holocaust. This is a tale about the human spirit and its quest to rise above the dark. Megan Hoyt’s writing puts the reader right on the bicycle seat with Bartali. Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations take us to an era that we must never forget. This book is perfect for readers of all ages. It reminds us all that a single person can be a champion in the fight for human rights.
TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?
DZ: My grandfather was a botany professor at Texas A&M University. During my childhood, he gave me wonderful books for special occasions such as my birthday. I treasured the beautiful hardcover copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Yet, I adored A Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The vibrant colors and the glimpse into the natural life of a caterpillar captured me. I liked the whimsicalness of a caterpillar that ate treats like cake and ice cream and ended up with a stomach ache.
TBF: Alternatively, make up some questions you’d like to be asked!
DZ: LITERARY CHARACTER I WOULD LIKE TO MEET
My eight-year-old self would love to hang out with Jasmine Toguchi from Debbi Michiko Florence’s chapter book series. Jasmine Toguchi is a determined, smart Japanese-American heroine. She’s not afraid to try new things and learn about family, friendship, and sisterhood along the way. I relate to her because I grew up in a multicultural household with an older sister who got to do things first.
DZ: WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS
Seeing my work in print has been a tremendous joy because I believe in a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book. Only three percent of children’s picture books include a prominent character with a disability. Up and Adam features a protagonist with Down syndrome. The story focuses on the character’s abilities. Readers learn about Adam’s sincere smile, his big heart, and his kindness. On each page, we see how Adam adapts to the circumstances and thinks about what to do to help others. I hope Up and Adam inspires young readers to see how everyone can make a difference in their community.
Catch Debbie Zapata on Sunday, November 6 at the Read Me A Story Tent from 3:00 – 3:30 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!