Contemporary Character 2017: Z on Location

Published 2017, author J. J. Howard, book design by Suzanne LaGage, photos by April Messinger Photography and Michael Frost


Z is excited for summer: her favorite vlogger, Winter Costello, has issued a challenge for her followers to to post about their summer adventures. And does Z ever have an adventure! She’s going to VidCon in San Francisco, where she’ll meet some of her far-flung friends, and on the way...Her mom is traveling to some locations in Washington and California to interview different people in the tech business to find out how they’re integrating new technologies into people’s everyday lives (e.g.; an AI robot to help people with autism learn about social interaction, and a company make smart device that connect to each other). She’s letting Z come to help film the interviews!

The first interview is fantastic. Z’s stoked for the next one, but gets distracted by her phone alerts. Her mom tries to get through to her to live in the moment rather than just thinking of what wil make a good post, but it’s hard for Z to not be connected to the internet. As the interviews progress, Z gets more and more distracted until her mom finally calls in one of her students to meet them and take over. Z wants to prove herself, but screws up even worse: she sends a picture from a pen interview with a virtual reality company to her friends back in Seattle...who post the proprietary information on social media. The company finds out and ban them from coming back and revokes permission for the interview to be shown. Z feels awful, and knows she has to regain her mom’s trust. Acting on the student’s advice, she starts small, taking care of tasks she knows she can do, even it’s just something simple like making breakfast. She helps with the interviews rather than trying to make them flashier for posting. She also only uses her phone when strictly necessary, like arranging when to meet her friends (part of this was being grounded from the phone, but Z is prepared to restrict herself on her own). By the time they reach VidCon, Z’s mom is impressed with her efforts and gives her another chance when the student comes down with food poisoning. Specifically, Z gets to film the interview with Winter Costello! Winter offers to grant Z a short interview for her vlog but Z has to decline—just before meeting with her, Z ran into some fans who asked her for an interview, and staying any longer would mean missing that and letting her fans down. Z wants to stay true to her word.

Sticking with the original plan was definitely the right choice. Her fans bring some more fans along, and Z’s friends are there. It’s amazing for Z to see how many people enjoy her work. Even better, Winter shows up and features Z on her vlog! Doing something because it was the right thing rather it being the cool thing led to something even better.


The author dedicates the book to her mother.

I love that Z sends her videos to her parents for approval before posting them online. It’s a good idea for kids the ages of this book’s target audience. (She still uses her full name though, which I wouldn’t be comfortable letting my kids do).

Good research, author! Z’s friends at home send her pictures of a wallaroo at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. It does indeed have wallaroos.

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