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Shaquille O’Neal shares life lesson in book for kids

“Here, try this.”

Ugh. That’s advice you almost never take because you hate new things. You know what you like; you know what you don’t — and there are plenty of things that fall into the last category. But, as in the new book “Little Shaq Takes a Chance” by Shaquille O’Neal, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, unless you try something, how do you know for sure?

Little Shaq loved his mother’s cooking, so when he and his cousin Barry came home from the rec center and Little Shaq’s mom promised something good for supper, Little Shaq was almost drooling.

Man, Mom’s cooking was the best!

Everyone was hungry at the table that night. They all waited eagerly, stomachs growling, as Little Shaq’s mom carried in a plate full of … rolled-up things! Sushi!

Little Shaq had never had sushi, but he was sure he wouldn’t like it. It wasn’t cooked, and he had to eat it with two sticks. There was no way he was going to do that, so he had peanut butter sandwiches that night for supper.

The next day at school, Ms. Terpenny reminded Little Shaq and his classmates about the upcoming art show. It was going to be really fun! She spread lots of art materials on a table in the classroom and said the theme for the show was “What We Love.”

Little Shaq’s friend Aubrey drew a picture of her dog.

His other friend Rosa made a portrait of her kitten.

Little Shaq’s crayon drawing of a basketball looked more like an orange. This wouldn’t be easy. Little Shaq hated art. Though his friends were really talented, he didn’t think he was any good at it. There was no way he was going to do it, even though his mom always said to “keep an open mind.”

But then, he got an idea. Little Shaq was a natural at basketball. Maybe he’d be a natural at something else, too…

I don’t wanna. I can’t. I won’t.

You say those things all the time to yourself, and you hear them often from your kids. Neither of you “wannas” because change is hard, but “Little Shaq Takes a Chance” shows that trying new things can also be fun.

Using a story-within-a-story method and characters from his last book, author Shaquille O’Neal offers kids a lesson in growing — not just up but inside. O’Neal’s young namesake and title character is hip and funny — illustrations by Theodore Taylor III made me laugh — but Little Shaq shows a surprising lack of confidence in this book. He works things out, of course, and gets his old swagger back — and in the meantime, your kids will get a lesson-not-lesson to learn.

This is a book for boys and girls and basketball fans. A kindergartener might like it for storytime, but the real aim, I think, is for grade-schoolers and kids who are just starting to enjoy chapter books. If you have one of those around, “Little Shaq Takes a Chance” is one they’ll want to try.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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