Betty Before X

Betty Before X

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.

Inspired by Betty's real life--but expanded upon and fictionalized through collaboration with novelist Renée Watson--Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood with this book, painting an inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.--from the publisher

256 pages             978-0374306106           Ages 10-14

Backmatter included. This title has Common Core connections.


In the 1940s, young Betty Dean is being raised by a beloved aunt who feels that Betty's mother didn't take good care of her. The mother has remarried, moved to Detroit, and had other young daughters. When her aunt dies, Betty is forced to leave her comfortable life in the south to be raised in a crowded apartment with her step sisters. She spends a lot of time at church and hanging out with her girlfriends. The girls are especially interested in the work of the Housewives' League, a Civil Rights organization that is trying to convince the black community that they should not shop at stores that would not hire them. When she has some fights with her mother, Betty is taken in by the Malloys, who go to her church and are very active in the civil rights movement, and she enjoys living with them very much. There are a lot of things going on in Chicago at this time, and Betty learns to be aware of the position of people in her community and is interested in all of the activists who visit and show her more of what is going on in the world. 

Strengths: This is a great slice-of-life title for this time period, and FINALLY we have a book from the point of view of a young black person instead of a Civil Rights story told through a white lens! The details of every day life AND of the social mores of the time are absolutely fascinating, and it's even better since this is a fictionalized account of Shabazz's mother, who late married Malcolm X. Watson's input makes this highly readable and engaging, and historical notes at the end remind readers that this story is based on real events. 

Weaknesses: The cover is very young for a book that really should be read by middle school and even high school students. There is a scene of a lynching that might need to be processed with younger readers, who might be attracted to the pretty, sunny cover. What I really think: Definitely purchasing, even though I find Malcom X to be a problematic historical figure. If you have Shabazz and Magoon's X, you should definitely read this!

Recommended by:  Karen Yinglng, Library Media Specialist, Ohio  USA

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