A powerful middle-grade novel about the childhood activism of Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, written by their daughter.
In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.
Collaborating with novelist Renée Watson, Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood, painting a beautiful and inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Violence, Mentions of lynchings, Whipping, Racial prejudice
Booklist (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
Grades 4-6. Ilyasah Shabazz and Watson breathe life into a lightly fictionalized account of the childhood of her mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz. The story spans from 1945 to 1948, bookended by the life-changing experience of seeing lynching firsthand in Georgia, and the beating of Leon Mosley, a black 15-year-old, by a white police officer in Detroit. When the aunt who raised her dies, Betty leaves the segregated South to live with her birth mother in Detroit. Their fractious relationship forms the spine of the book, gaining complexity when Betty finds a more loving home with another family in the neighborhood. Betty finds purpose volunteering with the Housewives’ League, encouraging black women to spend their money in black-owned and black-staffed businesses. Short chapters and lucid prose make for an accessible read, with key details bringing the era to life for contemporary young readers. Extensive back matter provides further context for educational use. The lessons from Betty’s life are abundant: forgiveness, gratitude for life’s blessings, and planting seeds for the future. Her response to hardship and injustice is timeless.
Kirkus Reviews starred (November 1, 2017)
A passion for social justice blossoms during the middle school years for the girl who grew up to become Dr. Betty Shabazz. Loved but unwanted by her mother, 11-year-old Betty finds solace in friends and church. In 1945 Detroit, Betty’s African-American church community is a hub for activism in the face of Jim Crow racism, police brutality, and economic inequality. With renowned guests such as Thurgood Marshall and Paul Robeson coming to speak and perform, Betty and her friends are swept up in the fervor and demand for social justice that would become a movement. They volunteer for the Housewives’ League, a group that encourages the community to give its dollars to black-owned and -employing businesses. But the movement is also personal for Betty, who struggles to find her place in a world that treats brown-skinned black girls as lesser—less beautiful, less worthy, less deserving. Authored by her daughter Ilyasah Shabazz in collaboration with Watson, this moving fictional account of the early life of the late civil rights leader and widow of Malcolm X draws on the recollections of family and friends. The result is a heart-rending imagining of Shabazz’s personal challenges as well as a rare, intimate look at the complex roots of the American civil rights movement. A personal, political, and powerful imagining of the early life of the late activist. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
About the Author
Ilyasah Shabazz, third daughter of Malcolm X, is an activist, producer, motivational speaker, and the author of the critically acclaimed Growing Up X and the picture book Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X. She lives in Westchester County, New York.
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