Betty Before X | by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson

Betty Before XBetty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Betty Before X depicts the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz before she became the wife of Malcolm X. It is was penned by her daughter, Illyasah Shabazz, and co-written by Renee Watson, the award-winning author of Piecing Me Together (2017). While it is a work of fiction, it is was inspired by real-life events with characters that are based on real people. It takes the reader back to her early childhood in Pinehurst, Georgia, “the kind of place you find when you’re looking for someplace else” to Detroit, Michigan, highlighting four formative years of her life (1945-1948).

I appreciate this book for what it will teach the reader about Dr. Betty Shabazz’s childhood and experiences that shaped the foundation of the woman she became, “A devoted wife, a selfless mother, a compassionate friend, a bold activist, and – most importantly – a caring human being who lived her life with integrity and grace,” as elegantly stated in the backmatter of the book by her daughter. It will also give the reader an awareness of:

  1. The Housewives’ League – A national organization founded by Fannie B. Peck (1930), that had a very active local chapter in Detroit, Michigan. The group encouraged Black women to shop Black-Owned for the goods and services they needed.
  2. Leon Mosley – A 15-year-old boy who was murdered by police in Detroit, Michigan (1948)
  3. Paul Robeson – Well loved and known as a performer (actor, singer and more) but also as an advocate for civil rights.

All of these things combined make this book such a treasure and as if that were not enough, the book concludes with a beautiful author’s note, an introduction of the characters, and a timeline of events highlighting the roots of Dr. Betty Shabazz’s legacy, speaking to her character and achievements, her devotion to family, to sisterhood, to justice and freedom. This book would be well suited for upper middle grade (4th/5th grade) through middle school and up.

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Quotes from Betty Before X

“Freedom is a strong seed.”
~Langston Hughes

“A society is measured by the progress of its women. My father said, When you educate a boy, you teach a community; when you educate a girl, you raise a nation.”
~ Illyasah Shabazz (from the dedication page of Betty Before X


Ilyasah Shabazz |

Renee Watson |

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers

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