Monday, May 6, 2013

Kareem Abdul Jabbar and What Color is My World: The Lost History of African American Inventors (Candlewick, 2012)

Kareem Abdul Jabbar, April 2013
I was thrilled to have the opportunity several weeks ago to hear basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar speak at a library event about his books, in particular about his children's book, What Color is My World:  The Lost History of African American Inventors (co-written with Raymond Obstfeld).  I grew up with a father who was a sports fanatic; in the absence of sons, he took his two daughters regularly to see the Lakers play at the Forum in Inglewood.  I saw Kareem Abdul Jabbar play countless times (and his predecessor, Wilt Chamberlain) and have many fond memories of cheering for him and his teammates.

Walking into a room filled with library staff, he literally seemed to be double the size of most of the people in the room, and despite his reputation as being introverted, he seemed at ease speaking with his audience of librarians and library support staff.  Wearing a UCLA Bruins cap (no Lakers garb in sight), he gave an inspirational talk about what inspired him to write two of his books:  What Color is My World, and On the Shoulders of Giants, a book about the Harlem "Rens," an all-black basketball team from the segregated days of professional basketball.  He bemoaned the fact that so many African American young people seem to think that the only avenue to success is to be Jay-Z or Kobe Bryant, and said he wrote What Color is My World to help inspire young people to consider other careers.  During a lively Q&A, he answered a variety of questions on his own role models in basketball (Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain), his fond memories of Coach John Wooden, his inspiration for writing, and more.

What Color is My World is an assortment of biographical sketches of famous and little-known black inventors, ranging from George Crum, inventor of the potato chip, to Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of large scale blood banks.  The biographical sketches are enveloped in a fictional story about twins who have moved into a new house and meet an old handyman who's coincidentally just full of knowledge about African-American history, particularly scientists and inventors.  This scheme provides an engaging setting for telling the stories of these remarkable men (unfortunately, only one woman is included among those discussed).  The design of the book is also noteworthy--it's abundantly illustrated with full-color illustrations and there are flaps which kids can open which discuss each of the scientists, giving a portrait and brief "fast facts".  When the reader opens the flap, he or she will find more information about that particular inventor and his invention.  Below are examples of several spreads from the book.

I would highly recommend this book to any young person interested in science and technology, regardless of his or her race.  It's also a fun and entertaining book for parents to share with their kids.


PragmaticMom said...

Wow, I'm so impressed with him! Who would have thunk he's write a book for kids, let alone one that's not on basketball?! Sharing it on Sulia!

V3soft said...

Thank you for your post. This really is an amazing article and inspiring for so many others. I am honored to have been asked to post this story on my blog.