Giant Steps to Change the World


Written by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, Illustrated by Sean Qualls

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011

On some days your dreams may seem too far away to realize. Listen to the whispers of those that came before…those who had hard days but dared to make their dreams come true.

What made this author famous?  Spike Lee is an actor, writer, director and producer, who won an Emmy for When the Levees Broke, his documentary about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The author points out that many people who came before made big strides in improving the world to make it easier for those who came after. Readers are encouraged to leap over hurdles, like the athlete who won the gold medal even though his own country considered him a second class citizen. They’re reminded to keep going even when the road gets dark, like the freedom fighter who helped slaves board the railroad to freedom and safety. More examples are given, such as the boxing champion who refused to go to war to kill other people, the woman who dedicated her life to caring for the sick and providing for the hungry, and the poet who raised his words to bring awareness of the community’s suffering. Following in the footsteps of those people will help you leave footprints of your own.

Authors Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee start encouraging readers from the moment you open this book, which is their third picture book together. The endpapers feature inspirational quotes from the heroes referenced in the book’s text and the book’s inside flap is a call to action, reminding each and every person reading it that they have the power to be a hero and motivating them to take that first step by acknowledging it. By pointing out the stumbling blocks that these famous people have had to overcome, they admit that the path can be difficult but with confidence and courage, you can make a difference. It sounds corny, but I think their message comes across as genuinely felt.

That butterfly and bee are there to show him how to float and sting.

That butterfly and bee are there to show him how to float and sting.

Sean Qualls’ artwork is done in acrylic, gouache, pencil and collage in a color palette that changes (sometimes very meaningfully) for each picture. For example, the picture for Harriet Tubman only uses black and white and inverts the colors from one page to the other, with simple images of two people that evoke an emotional response from the reader. The book’s vocabulary is a little advanced so I imagine this book is appreciated more by older readers, but (as always) I never object to an opportunity to introduce younger kids to more complex words and ideas, especially when they can lead in such a positive and motivating direction.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that everyone has the power to make a difference in the world. Follow the inspiration of the great people who have come before and make a difference of your own.


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