“And these trees have deep roots, so grounded that even though they bend, they don’t break. So many of us bearing fruit, so many of us just planted.”
In this story, we see the childhood of Betty Shabazz and the people and events that shaped her in her formative years. She is born to a teenage mother but then raised by her aunt. When her aunt dies, she is sent to live with her mother, who has since married and had 3 more daughters. She has a difficult relationship with her mother, who she calls Ollie Mae. When she tries to run away, she’s taken in by the Malloys, a married couple from church who cares deeply for Betty. The Malloys are activists, and Mrs. Malloy is a leader in the Housewives League, which works towards boycotting businesses that won’t hire black employees. She teaches Betty about activism, but also how to find the good in life even when everything appears to be terrible.
I think this book is a fantastic introduction to the civil rights movement. It’s set in the second half of the 1940s in Detroit, years away from Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr, which I think is important – it shows that people were working and fighting for equality all along and in all parts of the country, not just in the south in the late 50s and 60s. There are also some really great conversations about race that Betty overhears and many famous people mentioned. Not to mention Jazz music, the Great Migration, and magazines like Ebony – there are so many interesting rabbit trails to visit as you read!
This Lit Bite takes 3 weeks to complete (as written). While it is flexible age-wise, I recommend it for ages 10 – 12.
Amazon: Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson – Buy at Bookshop.org
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