Little Shaq, written by Shaquille O’Neal, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Bloomsbury Children’s, New York, 2015.
Early Chapter Book autobiographical fiction, 73 pages
AR level: 3.4 (worth 0.5 points)
I got this book as a gift from a list of requests I made. Husband and I are either indifferent to or dislike most organized sports but the kids love basketball, so I added this title without knowing too much about it.
This book is the first in what is now a series of early chapter books by famed NBA player Shaquille O’Neal (so famous even I have heard of him). Originally I was surprised not to see a ghostwriter or a co-author credited on a book by an athlete, but upon reading the conclusion, I was happy to see that Mr. O’Neal has an MBA and a P.Hd. in education. He also has been heavily involved in the Boys and Girls Club and has children of his own, so he is undoubtedly familiar with the limited books available for early chapter book readers of color.
This book focuses on Shaq and his cousin Barry, who also happen to be best friends. Sure, Shaq might be better at basketball, and maybe even a little better at their favorite video game. But as neighbor Rosa is quick to point out, that doesn’t mean Barry shouldn’t get a chance to shoot for a basket or his turn to be player 1. When the video game breaks during their disagreement, the boys have to figure out a way to earn enough money to buy a new one.
One thing I loved about this book is that Little Shaq’s grade level was never mentioned. That means that, even though this book is an early chapter book reader, it could be read by struggling readers who are as old as middle school! And, because the book is a hardcover and 73 pages long, it will not be as obvious to their peers that they’re reading an early reader.
In general, the artwork is well-done (if you’ve seen the cover of When the Beat was Born, you know about Theodore Taylor III). The book is 73 pages long, but the words could probably fit comfortably in three blog posts. There are 5 full-page illustrations, and the rest vary but commonly take up about half the page. Illustrations are worked into the text formatting in a thoughtful and natural way that changes from time to time to add interest. There is an illustration at least every other page. The text is larger than usual and the generous margins and line spacing subtly add ease for the new or struggling reader.
While steps are taken to make this book as painless to read as possible, it does not shy away from vocabulary, although some difficult words are supported by the pictures (“prickly cactus” followed by an illustration). At first I wondered about the book being broken up into only three chapters, especially as there was a lot happening in each chapter. However, after looking through a few other early readers, this is comparable.
I appreciated that a character in the second chapter, Mr. Rodriguez, is Latino. There are also a few white characters, and the African-Americans portrayed have a variety of skin tones and hairstyles.
SPOILER One thing I really liked (although I don’t know how realistic it is) was that at the end of the book, the boys decided to use their hard earned money to start a community garden instead of buying the replacement game. Out of the 500+ students I’ve known, I can count on one hand the kids I think would actually make that choice, but I liked the positive role modeling. /Spoiler
Personally I would rather not read about basketball or video games, and I read so many early chapter books between work and home that I’m rather sick of them. However, I would strongly recommend this for struggling readers in higher grades who need to build their confidence or beginning chapter book readers who enjoy sports. Every aspect of this book was very high-quality and I will certainly try the next two books and promote the series.
So far the kids have not read this book, but I am planning to have one read it out loud to me and to read it aloud myself to another. I’m very curious what they think and if they will enjoy it as much as I think.