By Johanna Barr
NBC New York
Director Spike Lee and his wife, writer and producer Tonya Lewis Lee, have penned their third children’s book, “Giant Steps to Change the World.” But during a discussion at Barnes & Noble last night, the couple suggested that the book’s target audience extended beyond the elementary school set.
“Even though you might think, at first, that this is a children’s book, I think it’s also a book that you give to somebody who’s graduating from high school, or college, or graduate school,” Lee said.
“It’s all about taking chances and taking steps. Sometimes you might not know where those steps are gonna take you, but if you have belief in yourself, and you’ve done the necessary work and surrounded yourself with positive people, you should be alright.”
The book features ordinary people who stood up for their beliefs and passions and became heroes in the process. They include artists, activists, athletes and politicians, such as Jesse Owens, Mother Teresa, Barack Obama, Harriet Tubman and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Lewis Lee said that their shared love of history led them to write the book.
“It’s always a challenge to think about bringing history to young people in a way that’s interesting and relevant to them,” she said. “So we wanted to try to do that, and at the same time inspire them to understand that each individual has a contribution to make to this world, no matter what obstacles you’ve been through or what challenges you’ve had…”“Everybody who’s in the book faced hurdles. Think about it. Albert Einstein is one of the greatest minds ever, but when he was in school, they were like, ‘You’re not gonna make it.’ This book is for anyone who’s ever been marginalized or felt like they didn’t belong. I think that all of us have probably felt that way at some point in our lives.”
The couple also discussed the things in their lives that inspire them.
“I feel that inspiration comes from everywhere, if you’re open,” Lee said. “I don’t sit around saying, ‘I need to be inspired.’ It just comes. And it comes from many places—music, literature, my family, sports, movies.”
Lewis Lee, meanwhile, said that she drew inspiration from her children, ages 13 and 16.
“Having children opened up my eyes to what’s not out there for them, so I really felt that I wanted to contribute something not only for my children, but for all children that look like them,” she said.
Lewis Lee explained that while the book contains subjects “from all ethnicities,” she and her husband chose to feature primarily African American people for a very specific reason.
“It’s not that this book is only for children of color, it’s for all children,” she said. “And I say that because I think all children need to see images of children of color doing interesting and regular things. I think it’s good for white children to see that black children are just like they are, basically.”
Toward the end of the conversation, an audience member asked the Lees what they enjoyed most about working together. They paused for an extended period of time before answering, prompting laughter from the crowd.
“I would say…you know, it’s all just a fun ride,” Lewis Lee finally answered, as Lee chuckled beside her.
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