An Interview with Don M. Winn: Space Cop Zack

Aug 13, 2013 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Don, I understand that you have a new book out. Tell us about it!

My new picture book is called Space Cop Zack, Protector of the Galaxy. In this book, Space Cop Zack and his faithful robot sidekick GARG chase the terrible Dr. Dogbreath across the galaxy. The story follows their adventures as they brave bad smells, squishy slime, giant ocean monsters, and even motion sickness. The question of whether Zack and GARG finally capture Dr. Dogbreath, or if he escapes their grasp is left up to children’s imaginations.
The surprise twist at the end of the story is that Zack is actually a little boy in his backyard with his favorite toy robot, an old cardboard box, and a big imagination. The main teaching point of the book gives parents an opportunity to remind kids about the importance of using their imaginations.
I kind of like to think of the style of this book as something of a literary comic book for young kids. I used to love comic books as a kid, but they’re not exactly made for reading aloud. So this book has all the action and adventure kids enjoy from comic books, but it’s meant for parents and children to read aloud together, just like all my picture books.

2) Where did you get the idea for a “space cop”?

When I was a boy we would frequently play cowboys or cops and robbers but after a while this would get old. I always wanted to explore and have adventures and there was no greater wilderness in need of exploration than our vast universe. My imagination soon took me to outer space. At first I was lockstep with NASA, sitting in my big cardboard box preparing to be the first man—okay, boy—on the moon. But with imagination I could go anywhere, and soon I was chasing intergalactic robbers throughout the galaxy.

3) Where does imagination fit in?

Imagination, pretending, and make-believe all serve to entertain and exercise the elastic young mind. It’s one of our first ways to see how we relate to the world and our surroundings. 
Parents often want to encourage their children’s aptitude for imagination and discovery, and with this book, they can do just that. The goal while writing Space Cop Zack was to inspire children to create their own adventures. I know that kids do that naturally, but it doesn’t hurt to provide a little positive reinforcement. Today kids have so many opportunities for entertainment—television shows and video games and various other interactive devices—that unless they make time for imaginative play, there’s a possibility they could miss out on the enriching experiences that it has to offer.

4) Why do you see imagination as important?
Imagination, developed in youth, is a tool that serves us well as adults. Imagination helps us with problem solving, critical thinking skills, reasoning, judgment, empathy, compassion, and many other vital social skills because all these require us to be able to imagine different scenarios and evaluate which course of action to take.

5) Don, many years ago, people would crowd around the radio and listen to “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man” and various other radio shows. People would have to use their imagination. But now, we have t.v.s and movies and all kinds of other visual stimulation. How do you as an author have to adjust?

While we all have to acknowledge the paradigm shifts of society, its definitions of entertainment and even of values, it’s good to remember our roots. Reading and imagination are two aspects of human intelligence that will, I hope, never be completely supplanted. Reading as a joyful hobby and as an unequalled learning tool, and imagination as the locus of all creative ventures really are defining characteristics of humanity.
I think that as humans, we are drawn to storytellers, and always will be, but as you mentioned, storytelling can take many forms, many of which are visual nowadays. And that’s great—but at the same time, it can make us imaginatively lazy. The danger of that is probably greatest for kids, because they don’t know what life was like before we had all these different kinds of visual entertainment available. So I would really like to encourage kids to see that the need to exercise their imaginations is important for their mental health and growth, just like the need to get physical exercise is important for their physical health and growth.

6) What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on my second chapter book The Lost Castle Treasure in the Sir Kaye, The Boy Knight series for young readers. The Sir Kaye books are fun medieval adventures about a very young knight and his two friends that help him deal with that role and its responsibilities. The stories feature adventure and humor and danger as well as friendship, loyalty, and the value of holding fast to knightly ideals.
I’m also developing a new program for school visits called Space Cop Zack and the World of Imagination. This will be a highly interactive presentation where all participants will give their imaginations a workout with ordinary classroom objects. It should be a lot of fun.
For more information about the Sir Kaye series:

7) Do you have a web site where people can learn more about the exploits of Zack?

Preview of Space Cop Zack:
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