Although Shaquille O’Neal made his name on being one of the greatest basketball stars to ever play, he’s been known to take on a hodgepodge of extracurricular activities. His latest endeavor? Children’s book author.
Shaq recently released Little Shaq, a book for kids aged 6-8. In the story, a young Shaq and his cousin Barry break a video game and work together to start up a gardening business to earn some money for a replacement. The book is based off his real-life experiences with his cousin growing up in Newark.
While “Shaq the children’s book author” may initially sound strange, it’s a fitting title for a man who’s never been one to shy away from projects targeted at younger generations (see Kazaam, Shaq Fu, and Aaron Carter’s “How I Beat Shaq”). With his book, Shaq aims to make reading fun for new readers, while also teaching them some life lessons.
He imparted his words of wisdom to 900 third and fourth-graders in person when he returned to his hometown of Newark for the launch of his book, inviting them for a day of fun at the Cityplex 12 movie theater, which he co-owns. Shaq visited the hoards of screaming kids, entertaining them by playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” teasing the shy kids, and asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. But before he left each group, he made them all promise to listen to their parents and teachers and be leaders and not followers.
Of all the ways in which he could influence kids, why write a book? Shaq spoke to EW about how the ubiquity of smartphones and iPads has been impacting young children, including his own.
“My son was two and he was a whiz kid, but before I found out he was a whiz kid, he was doing this [mimics swiping on touchscreen] before he could read. In Kindergarten he’d do this and do that, but I’m seeing Cs and Ds. I felt like it was kind of my fault because when you got six kids running around the house you gotta start with the little ones first, and the only way to keep them quiet was to put Barney on the iPad and have them sit on the couch,” Shaq said.
So Shaq conceived a book that would help kids with their reading and comprehension, teach them about teamwork and community, and also get some laughs from them.
“I wrote a lot of relatable stories in here because I know when some of the kids read it they’ll get a chuckle. Cousins fighting? That happens every day,” Shaq said.
Little Shaq is currently planned to be the first in a series of three books. Based on the grade-schoolers’ reaction at the launch, young readers will be begging for more.
“I want them to have fun. I want them to smile,” Shaq said. “I think they understand that I speak their language.”