"Basketball Beyond The Floor"

If you are in pre-school or primary grades, have young nieces or nephews, sons or daughters, are a fan of hip hop or just want a break from heavy reading, today's edition of 'Basketball Beyond the Floor' is for you. As promised, we will be discussing And the Winner Is...by LL. Cool J, Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah and Long Shot - Never too small to dream BIG by NBA All-Star Chris Paul. Most children's books like these for this age level are designed to build the confidence of young athletes, to keep trying and never give up. A pretty standard theme and sometimes over used, so I was a little skeptical doing research on and reading these books. To ensure I covered all angles, I enlisted the help of some 5 or 6 year-olds on my street (age level appropriate to these books). Each came with mixed reviews but my young helpers were able to tell me a quick summary of the plot and main characters so it was clear each book did it's job to communicate their respective themes. Let's dive in.

And the Winner is....By LL. Cool J.

One of the reasons I choose this particular book and the two others we will be discussing today, is they were actually written by the people they claim to be written by. Sometimes, books for this age level with celebrities attached, focus on the star quality before the content. If I was grading LL. Cool J's first attempt at children's literature on my own, I would say he is borderline in this area. However, my young book reviewers had this to say about the hip hop author:

- "Music was good"
- "Liked the pictures"
- "I liked how it said 'I never give up', you shouldn't give up and always keep trying"
- "I didn't like when he (LL. Cool J plays himself to act out both sides) was acting mean"
- "Too fast".

The book came with a CD of LL. Cool J telling the story through rapping. Other than the direction at the beginning to turn to page one, it was hard to follow for someone who can't read because he moves at a brisk pace. But the concept was an interesting attempt by Scholastic Inc. to try something new. This book comes from a "Hip Kid Hop" line of picture books with CD singles. Entertaining for young ones and with an important theme of winning and loosing gracefully - enjoyed fully with some adult assistance.

Queen of the Scene By Queen Latifah

This is another children's book which comes with a CD to supposedly enhance the reading experience. There was no direction and unless you can read and are quick to follow the words, the story is not really absorbed properly by the young reader on their own. After LL. Cool J's fast paced pep talk, I let a 6 year-old who is proficient at reading attempt the book on her own and she found it hard to follow. This is not too say the book isn't worth your time. It totally is - especially for young girls. The illustrations are fantastic and come from the same illustrator as Long Shot, Frank Morrision. On the first page, the main character is flying high off the ground to slam the ball a la Lisa Leslie or LeBron-esqe. I like the way it is written because it shows girls can be confident and talented and stand up for themselves: "So girl, take pride - Even if at first you fall - Keep giving it another try. The Queen in you walks tall". Confident, but not cocky - there's a difference: "If you are standing on the sidelines, 'cause you don't have heart, then get yourself right back in there.." or "In any sandbox I go to - Nobody can be mean". Queen Latifah is involved in many charities that help empower children and be the best they can be. I recommend every young girl own a copy of this book or at least read it.

Long Shot - Never too small to dream BIG by Chris Paul

This is the best book out of the three as far as basketball content goes. Like most kids in the Jordan era, Chris Paul begins the book with his dreams of playing like MJ but laments on his size and wonders how he's going to get past it. I love how he refers to his grandfather as 'Papa Chilly' (the kids in my group did, too) who gives Paul this advice: "...you can't make yourself taller, but you can get faster and stronger...work harder than everyone else out on the court and your size won't matter". I think this is a little better and more realistic advice to give to a young athlete than telling them they can be like MJ. Sure, with hard work and perseverance you can be MJ but what if your height (like with Chris Paul) leaves you with more to work at to get there. There is nothing wrong with telling a child to strive for an A+ or win a basketball game because let's face it, we don't step on a court or go to school with the intention to loose or fail. But as we all know sometimes we have to loose because the other team is better or we tackled a subject we are not familiar with. This book accomplishes this. The message is good for parents and children alike since it shows how family support is important and how cheering rather than applying pressure on our kids is our role at our niece/nephew/grandchild's/child's game. I got the book from the library to read and research for this piece but I ended up buying it for my nephew who is turning one years old soon. Shhhh.

Flick Pick of the Week

James the dinoblogger is going to laugh but the movie I want you to watch this weekend is Space Jam starring Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny (with Billy West as the voice of Bugs) and the rest the Looney Tunes characters. I love this movie not only because of the basketball theme but for the amount of cameos from NBA players and Hollywood personalities. It really grabs the attention of the young viewer with the crazy storyline: MJ leaves basketball to pursue baseball (ironic given he tried that in real life) but he returns to help the Looney Tunes challenge the Nerdlucks. Funny for the adults to watch even if it's at NBA players like Charles Barkley thinking they can act. Very entertaining.

Next Thursday, we will be discussing Don't let the Lipstick Fool You by Lisa Leslie, recently retired from the L.A. Sparks of the WNBA. I am in the middle of it now and already I know I wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley much less defend her on the court. I have followed her career from start to finish and even now as I am reading her book, I am learning new things from behind the scenes of her life getting to the WNBA, the Olympics and more. The title will really make you laugh when you read it. Happy reading and see you on Tuesday for another serving of Jiggly Bits.

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