ZIPP – Unifying the nation

With the slogan ‘better together’ printed on their colour-mismatched T-shirts, Unify – a quintet of six-formers who earlier in the year won the award for ‘most innovative product’ at the Young Enterprise nationwide contest – promoted their children’s book ‘Zipp’s Trips’ at last Literary Festival. Unify broke the record for youngest speakers on the program and revealed they are already working on the sequel or even the audio-book, if a joint project with a fellow Young Enterpriser sets sail as smoothly as they hope.

Their interactive talk encouraged volunteers from the audience to design and name the alien who they’d want to be the protagonist (or co-protagonist) of their second book on which they expect to start working soon, and which will tackle the issues of sexism and homophobia before their minds can provide fertile ground for these weeds’ seeds to be sown.

This fierce-looking alien will join Zipp in a new adventure that, according to the audience’s suggestions, will be set in a large city, or in Gibraltar, or even under the ocean to throw in some environmental issues for good measure. Of course the Unify business partners didn’t unzip about the plot they’ve in mind, but it will most probably follow the same format that afforded success to their debut, a winning blend of neat graphics, rhyming text and a glossary at the end for the glowing-green words that youngest children may find harder to memorise.

Supported by Minister for Equality Samantha Sacramento, the project was initially designed by David Hitchcock and later developed by the professional graphic designer the company contracted thanks to the funds budgeted by Holly Hart and Lauren Olivero, the financial side of the enterprise, while Josie Cassaglia and Shianne Ferrary wrote the story and surveyed potential readers, adults and children, about how long and how often they would spend reading books together and how they imagined their friendly alien.

The message portrayed by the cute and endearing cartoon characters is an invitation to not only embrace but also encourage difference, because that is what makes the world interesting and worth meeting and getting to know someone so-not-like-you. There are several pivotal lines in the poem that highlight how prejudice, profiling and labelling may stem from the inability of getting into the other’s shoes, or in this case spacesuit. For instance, to the little green man lost in her backyard, schoolgirl Luna asks if he is an alien, and he simply replies “No, I am Zipp.” Well, if you think about it, to this green-skinned, one-eyed, pointy-eared space explorer, the real alien simply is the earthling: it’s a question of perspective!

Disregarding any basic stranger-danger caution and without seeking permission from a responsible adult (but sometimes poetic licences must be taken for the greater good of the moral!), Luna hides Zipp in her bedroom and the morning after, after a close encounter with the house cat, Luna takes him to school, where he hopes to find spare parts to repair his spaceship. She must get there on time to rehearse for the school play so she disguises him as a ghost to smuggle him on the bus, where she is bullied and relegated to the back. It is only at this point that the readers fully realise that Luna is black and the rest of the class white, but their bullying doesn’t dwell solely on racism, since the same ‘popular kids’ are later seen making fun of someone in a wheelchair.

Although Luna aces her part in the play and looks dashing in her costume while ghostly Zipp looms in the background, some girls manage to humiliate her to tears until Zipp cannot take it anymore and jumps to her defence, while the key line to the entire story is delivered, more likely shouted: “You alienated me!” A round of apologies is in order as everyone wells up profusely, hugs and promises not to do it ever again, so that Zipp, his spaceship repaired, can blast up in the stratosphere while Luna bids him farewell standing between her two dads. This is an unexpected ending for most readers that draws a couple of ‘aws!’ and ‘ahs!’ and perhaps raises an eyebrow with the traditionalist, but it is a valid creative expedient, almost Scheherazade-worthy, to keep us on the lookout for next adventure, reinforced by Zipp inadvertently (or not?) dropping a rocket into our atmosphere.

The whiz-kids told the audience how they considered other products at first, but soon set their minds on a children’s book with a powerful message, because they didn’t want to make a difference just in business but also in mentality. They marketed it on social media, promoted it with their peers and copies can be purchased by contacting them or from ‘Happy Healthy Nails’ in Engineer’s Lane.