About the Author
Miguel Benítez likes to describe himself as a "part-time daydreamer and a full-time doodler." He lives with his wife and two cats in Surrey, United Kingdom.
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A Box Changes My Life
A box changed my life. It was sitting outside Apartment 29G when I came home from Starwood Elementary.
My name, FReDDIe RaMOS, was written on it in big black letters. I'd never gotten a package like this.
"What did you get?" a deep voice asked.
I looked up to see Mr. Vaslov. He had a paintbrush in his hand. Mr. Vaslov takes care of Starwood Park Apartments, and he is always fixing something.
"I don't know yet," I said. "I can't open the box. It's taped up like a mummy."
"I'll look in my toolshed," Mr. Vaslov said. "I've got scissors there."
I followed him with my mummy box.
"Be careful," he said, as we walked. "The paint is still wet."
The toolshed looked bright, white, and all brand new. The last place Mom and I lived didn't have someone like Mr. Vaslov always trying to make things look nice. When big kids wrote bad words on the walls, the words stayed there a long time.
"Where did I put my scissors?" Mr. Vaslov said.
While Mr. Vaslov searched, I peeked in. I'd never seen inside the toolshed. There were tables and shelves full of wires, cables, batteries, and electronic stuff.
"Did you take apart a billion computers?" I asked.
"No," Mr. Vaslov laughed. "Only fifty."
Just as I was about to ask him why he was cutting up computers, Mr. Vaslov found his scissors.
We opened the box. First we saw lots of white packing popcorn.
Then we saw a sheet of purple paper. It had five words printed on it.
"'Zapato Power.'" Mr. Vaslov pushed his bushy gray hair away from his face. "That sounds interesting."
"Yeah." I turned the purple paper over. "Except I'm not sure what it means."
"Zapato?" Mr. Vaslov asked.
"Doesn't that mean shoe in Spanish?"
"It sure does. But what kind of power is shoe power?"
I dug my hands back into the white packing. This time, I pulled out two purple sneakers with silver wings on the side.
"Exactly what I need! Uncle Jorge is the best!"
I figured it was Uncle Jorge in New York. No one else mailed me presents. I put down the sneakers and looked for a signed card in the packing popcorn.
"That's strange," I said. "Uncle Jorge always sends funny cards with his gifts."
Some of the popcorn spilled on the floor while I searched the box, but Mr. Vaslov didn't complain. Instead, he leaned down to pick up the purple sneakers.
"Nice!" he said. "A lot better than what you're wearing."
We both looked at my shoes. They were all torn up. Maria from next door said they looked like a dog chewed them. Mom promised to buy me new ones as soon as she paid this month's bills. Now Mom could use the money to buy something for herself. I had brand new purple sneakers with silver wings on the side!CHAPTER 2
I Race the Train
"Try them on," Mr. Vaslov suggested. "See if they fit."
The purple sneakers hugged my feet like they were made for me.
"Wow! They feel great!"
"All right, then," Mr. Vaslov said in that voice grown-ups use when they're tired of you and ready to go back to their own stuff. "Go try them out. The train should be coming by any second."
I stared at him. "Have you seen me racing the train?"
He grinned. "How could I miss it? You're out there by the track every afternoon."
It was true. After a long day at school, trying to sit still every time Mrs. Lane reminded me, I needed to let loose. And the train rumbled by on its overhead track, shouting, "Race Me! Race Me!" We were a mile from the station. When I heard the train coming, I spread my arms out, like an airplane taking off. Airplanes can beat trains. Of course it was just pretend, but racing made me run faster.
"Here it comes!" Mr. Vaslov smiled as the walls of the toolshed started to shake.
I waved a quick goodbye and headed out the door.
The purple sneakers made a soft buzzing sound. My feet felt light. I ran faster and faster until the grass was just a blur beneath me.
Smoke whooshed out of my heels. The wind whipped across my cheeks. My legs whirled so fast I could hardly see them.
But I could see the train. It was up there beside me, falling behind! And I was zooming ahead, like a supercharged engine in my purple sneakers. Rápido! My pretend game had turned real! I was as fast as an airplane, racing the train. And winning!
When I got to the station, I dropped to the ground behind the fence. The train roared in over me. I'd just run a whole mile in a few seconds!
Talk about Zapato Power! I looked down at my purple sneakers. They were super shoes. I had super power! Where did Uncle Jorge get shoes like this? How fast could I get home to call him?
I stood up and spread out my arms.
My feet took off like jet wheels on a runway. One blink later, I was back at 29G.CHAPTER 3
The Mysteries Begin
"Gracias!" I shouted into the phone. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome," Uncle Jorge said. "What did I do?"
"You sent me Zapato Power! The fastest sneakers in the world!"
"Sneakers?" Uncle Jorge repeated. "Sorry. It wasn't me."
If Uncle Jorge hadn't sent me the shoes, who had?
"So what else is happening?" Uncle Jorge asked. "How's your head? You still keeping it short like a soldier?"
I laughed. Uncle Jorge always teased me about my hair. He said it made me look like my hero dad.
We talked a few minutes more. I told him about getting an A for the first time in spelling, and about the new basketball courts at school. Even though I'm shorter than most of the other guys, I can still get the ball through the hoop.
"Watch the mail," Uncle Jorge promised just before he said goodbye. "I'll get paid next week and send you something good."
"Thanks, Uncle Jorge." I hung up the phone, still wondering where my purple sneakers came from.
Maybe Mom could tell me. I always called to tell her I got home all right anyway. She worked in a busy doctors' office, answering telephones. I munched on pretzels while I waited on hold, listening to music and an electronic voice telling me my call was important.
"Did you leave a box on the doorstep for me?" I asked when I finally got through.
"No, Freddie." Mom sounded puzzled. "I always leave things for you on the table."
I knew that was true, but when you're solving a mystery, you have to check everything out, even if it means saying mushy stuff to your mom on the phone.
"See you at six, mi hijito."
"Love you, too, Mom."
I'd made enough phone calls. It was time to investigate in other places.
I need to look at the box," I realized.
But it was still at Mr. Vaslov's shed. I fed my guinea pig, Claude the Second, and left 29G, wearing my new purple sneakers. They felt like foam under my feet.
"Mr. Vaslov!" I knocked on the toolshed door.
He opened it wearing safety goggles, like a scientist.
"I'm busy now, Freddie," he said. "Can I help you later?"
"I need the box my sneakers came in."
"Why do you want that?" Mr. Vaslov pushed his goggles up.
"I'm trying to find out who gave me my purple sneakers."
Mr. Vaslov scratched his face.
"Freddie," he said. "Just enjoy the sneakers. Don't worry about where they came from."
It was good advice, but I'm a curious guy.
"Please. Can you tell me where the box is?"
Mr. Vaslov pushed his goggles back down over his blue eyes.
"I put it out for the trash." He closed the door.
Luckily, the box was beside the smelly dumpster, not in it. My name and 29G, Starwood Park Apartments were written on the front in big black letters. There were lots of stamps on the box but no return address. I checked again for a card. Nothing.
All I knew was that the box came in the mail.
It wasn't much to go on.
What would my dad say about getting magic shoes in the mail?
Whenever I couldn't figure something out, I always tried to imagine what my father would tell me if he was around. It wasn't easy because I didn't have much time with him. He was off being a soldier most of my life. And then he wasn't there at all.
"Any luck with the box?" a voice above me asked.
I looked up to see Mr. Vaslov. He had a bag of garbage in his hand.
"No. It didn't tell me much of anything."
"Might as well give up, then," Mr. Vaslov said. "It's getting late."
I looked at my watch. Mom would be getting off the train soon. I thought about using my Zapato Power and running back to the station to surprise her. But then I thought about what I would say when Mom saw my new purple sneakers. I hadn't quite decided yet. What if she wouldn't let me keep them if I didn't know where they came from?
"I'd better go home," I told Mr. Vaslov. "Mom likes to see me doing my homework when she comes through the door."CHAPTER 4
A Pretty Regular Night for A Superhero
Ever since Mom finished her classes at the community college and got a better job, she's been big on school. I have to show her my papers, and we read chapter books together. I like reading at bedtime, but school didn't take up so much of my life when I didn't have to do my homework every night.
By the time I opened the door to 29G and gave a carrot treat to Claude the Second, it was 5:45. I took off my purple sneakers and put them under my bed. Mom wouldn't notice anything weird about me going around the house in socks. I figured I could tell her about the purple sneakers when she noticed them. Every once in a while, she looks under my bed, so the conversation would come up sooner or later.
Then I hurried to get my backpack open and my books on the table. But it was hard to concentrate on my homework. I kept thinking about running in my purple shoes, flying on the ground like a plane with giant wheels. Zapato Power! My whole life was about to change! And not in any of the ways Mom had promised when we moved into Starwood Park at the beginning of the school year. She had said we were going to spend more time together and my grades were going to get better. That stuff happened. But Mom hadn't predicted this. I had purple shoes that made me faster than a train. Was this my chance to become a hero like my dad?
"How about pizza for dinner?" Mom asked when she got home. "I'm too tired to cook."
"Pizza's fine with me." I jumped up and handed Mom the phone. We had the pizza number on speed dial. That was one of the best things about Mom having a better job. Good food for dinner wasn't a problem anymore.
While we waited for the delivery, Mom looked over my math problems and my spelling words.
"Your handwriting looks a lot neater, Freddie. I'm glad to see you're taking your time."
I was happy to see Mom smiling. She wasn't much of a smiler before we moved to Starwood Park. Her brown eyes always looked worried the way my friend Maria's did when we went to the street fair and rode the Ferris wheel. Maria is afraid of heights, and my mom is afraid of too many bills. She also worried a lot when I was little because Dad was a soldier.
I worried, too. 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. That was two years ago.
I finished all my homework before dinner, so Mom and I had time to watch a couple of TV shows together after my bath. It was a pretty regular night. Not what you would expect for a guy that just got purple sneakers with super speed. What else can you do if your mom doesn't let you go out after dark?
At nine o'clock Mom and I got cozy on my bed and read another chapter of this book we got from the library. It's about this really smart kid who is kind of a superhero. He gives himself a cool fake name and uses the internet to keep a bully from bothering him. While we read, I kept thinking about my Zapato Power. Would it make me a superhero? Should I come up with a new name for myself — one that I could use when I did hero things? Mom kept reading, and my mind kept thinking bigger and bigger thoughts. Would I be able to make bullies stop picking on littler kids? Would I catch crooks and save people? And if I started doing stuff like that, would I need to tell my mom?
I almost went to sleep without Mom finding out about the purple sneakers. She had her hand on the light switch when she remembered that I'd called her at work that afternoon.
"What was the box on the doorstep?" she asked.
It was time to confess. I leaned under my bed and pulled out the purple sneakers.
"Nice!" she said. "Did they come from Uncle Jorge?"
"No. I called him and asked."
Mom picked up the purple sneakers and traced the silver wings with her finger.
"I wonder if they came from one of your dad's friends."
"In the army?" I asked.
She nodded her head. "I talked to someone from his old unit last week. He asked about you. I remember telling him you were growing fast and wearing out your shoes."
"That would have been nice of him to send me a gift. He doesn't know me."
"But he knew your dad," Mom said, giving me a kiss good night. "Sometimes, that's enough."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Zapato Power Freddie Ramos Takes Off"
Copyright © 2010 Jacqueline Jules.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Box Changes My Life,
2. I Race the Train,
3. The Mysteries Begin,
4. A Pretty Regular Night for a Superhero,
5. It's Not Easy to Be A Superhero at School,
6. Poopee Isn't Good for Starwood Park,
7. Puppy Is Missing!,
8. I Solve the Final Mystery,