October 25, 2022

Have Swag Will Travel: UP AND ADAM, by Debbie Zapata

Dear readers, I'm pleased to bring you another post in my blog series, Have Swag, Will Travel: Tips for Planning Book Events.

Today's guest is author, Debbie Zapata, who shares her experiences planning inclusive book events and story times, featuring her debut picture book, UP AND ADAM, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang (Kids Can Press, May 2022). Debbie's insights and resources are helpful year round, but they are especially timely in October, which is Down syndrome awareness month

Take it away, Debbie!

by Debbie Zapata and Yong Ling Kang

Storytime for All: UP AND ADAM

by Debbie Zapata

Thanks so much for having me, Dawn, on your fab kidlit blog! I launched my debut picture book recently. I knew it would be a wild ride, so I cofounded Kidlit Caravan, a troupe of authors with debut picture books new in ‘22. A debut group is a great way to surround yourself with writers on the same journey who can cheer one another on and celebrate our book birthdays together.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

Up and Adam, released in May 2022 (Kids Can Press, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang). Adam, a young boy with Down syndrome, and his dog, Up, help their community after a big storm. When the Mayor asks the community for help, Up and Adam spring into action and lend a hand wherever they can. But it turns out, Adam’s most important contribution is one he doesn’t even think about—his smile. Adam’s open-hearted and infectious smile lights the pages as he lifts spirits all over town.

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. 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 about 3% of children’s picture books include a prominent character with a disability. Up and Adam features a protagonist with Down syndrome and focuses on the character’s abilities. I hope it inspires children to see how everyone can make a difference in their community.

The book, Up and Adam is designed for readers of all ages and abilities. It is an uplifting story that celebrates individuality, volunteerism, and community. The best part of it being out in the world, is that I get to meet readers at inclusive storytime events and school visits. 

Once an event is scheduled, I get to work on marketing. I let people know that all ages and abilities are welcome. I like to incorporate help from my son. 

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I advertise that a range of craft choices will be available. I initially did this in order to address a range of abilities. However, at the first Up and Adam storytime event, I saw that all kids chose based on their mood or personal preference. I realize that not just kids, but all people make different choices based on what they need at any given time. It is by tuning in to what each person needs that we open up a world filled with compassion, empathy, and connection.

There is a fun scene in the story at Up and Adam’s neighborhood pizzeria. So, I offer a pizza decorating craft project that has a variety of choices including:

Paper plate decorating with precut pizza toppings and variety of glue stick sizes

Pizza decorating sheets printed on paper to color with different size markers

Pizza decorating sheets laminated to decorate with playdoh toppings

Laminated cheese pizza printout to decorate with Velcro pizza toppings

Sticker pizza slices to decorate with toppings stickers

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I bring along a number of visual schedules for anyone who may find it easier to participate if they know what is occurring during inclusive storytime.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I have endless ideas for activities for all ages and abilities. I often print out fun word searches and bring along a collection of writing instruments including adaptive pencils. 

I love meeting my son’s friends and teachers who recognize my son’s traits in the story. I also love making new friends, signing books, and hearing what it’s like for their family to see a character who has Down syndrome in a picture book that focuses on his abilities. An American Sign Language interpreter is at the book reading to interpret the story alongside the reader. I’ll ask a friend to hold up another copy of the book so everyone can see the pictures. When I read to a large group, I do a digital visual presentation of the book.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I appreciate that my local indie Book People chose to shelve Up and Adam in the section called ‘Being Me.’ Some people want my son to sign their copy of the book. I ordered stickers that act as his personalization (I hope this makes you smile) and he writes his name below.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

It is an honor to visit schools that provide education to children of all abilities in an inclusive setting. Kids enjoy meeting Up and Adam and often find it hard to say goodbye. I like to leave a little something with the kids.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

A little storytime swag goes a long way. I like to offer kids a choice between two stickers (i.e. happy face or flower) and then a choice between two different colors. They love picking a sticker just for them! Thanks to my wonderful publisher Kids Can Press, I can also share Up and Adam coloring and activity pages

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I love seeing photos shared on social media of families reading Up and Adam together. It’s wonderful to receive messages from parents expressing how much it means to them and their family member with a disability to see a protagonist with Down syndrome in a picture book. And it was an honor to participate in School Library Journal Day of Dialog last May. I was on a panel called Out and About: Children, their families, and communities shine in these uplifting picture books. I was elated when I read the School Library Journal review for Up and Adam. Warm reception for a book featuring a character with a disability helps it reach readers.

I am already getting quite a few requests for library storytime events, school visits, and I’m part of the author lineup for the 2022 Texas Book Festival. It will be held in Austin the first weekend of November. Up and Adam will be featured in the Read Me a Story Tent on Congress Ave on Sunday November 6th at  3 p.m. It will be an inclusive storytime not to be missed! Follow me on social media (IG, Twitter) or check my website for other upcoming announcement regarding Up and Adam news and events.

Writing, marketing, and book promotion is challenging. But the moments of sharing your book with kids of all ages and abilities, is worth it.

This is such an excellent post, Debbie. Your enthusiasm for inclusion is contagious! I especially appreciate how any educator (e.g. a teacher, librarian, community educator, or a parent) could easily lead a lesson around your book just by following your detailed notes and tips in this post. For this reason, I will also add this post to the lesson plans featured in my Start to Finish Story Time series

Readers, UP AND ADAM is available everywhere books are sold, but by now you know I'm partial to supporting your local indie bookstore--you can do that online via  And if you can't add another book to your personal library, you can still support Debbie's work by requesting UP AND ADAM from your local library. 


Image Credit: Joni Lorraine
Debbie Zapata grew up in a multicultural family in Austin, Texas. She enjoys helping others as a counselor and writing books for children that have heart and humor. Debbie loves creating stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She believes each of us has the ability to make the world a better place. Debbie lives in Austin with her family. Up and Adam (Kids Can Press, May 2022 illustrated by Yong Ling Kang) is her first picture book. 


Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at