Jacqueline Jules, art by Miguel Benitez. Albert Whitman, 2012. Freddie Ramos is a boy superhero. He has purple sneakers with "zapato power". When he is walking they are just like normal sneakers, but when he runs they ZOOM across the playground or down the street in a puff of smoke. The smoke can be a problem when grownups complain about it. The speed can be a problem when other kids complain he gets all shots on the basketball court.
But when a little kid in the neighborhood breaks a window playing ball, Freddie Ramos is there to help save the ball from bouncing down the street. He also races off to get the handyman to fix the window. Mr. Vaslov, the handyman, is the reason Freddie has Zapato power. He invents things like sneakers that can go ninety miles an hour. He is also a good friend for a boy with a busy working mom and a dad who died as a soldier hero.
This entertaining book is perfect for action-loving readers who are just launching into independent chapter books. There are lots of line drawings, including full page spreads in a cartoon style, done sweetly by Miguel Benitez. There are large, bold, graphic fonts for onomatopoeia, making words such as BOING BOING and ZAPATO!, fun to read and breaking up the text. In much the same way many other currently popular middle grade books are sticky about grabbing reader's interest, these graphic novel elements are a siren's call for today's visual kids. They make it a quick and exciting read even for those not confident in their budding skills.
I like the cultural elements included naturally in the story as well. We can surmise that Freddie is Latino by some of the language he uses. "Zapato" means "shoe" in Spanish and he speaks with sadness about the passing of his Abuela, missing the arroz con leche (rice pudding) she used to make him. His friends and neighbors have names such as Geo and Maria, Mr. Vaslov, and Mrs. Tran. The live in an urban neighborhood and look out for one another. There is humor in the story as well, when Freddie forgets to change out of his pajamas before doing superhero work or Mr. Vaslov gets stuck on the roof trying to rescue Geo's ball.
This is book 2 in a series of four books readers in grades 1, 2, and 3 will want to blast through. (Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash came out in 2012 and could be on your Cybils nomination list... you're working on that, right?) You can see a trailer and get reader's guides at the author's webpage HERE.