Betty Before X (hardcover)
by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson
Betty Before X is a semi-fictional biography of Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X. Before she became his wife, she was born to a young, unwed mother in Alabama. She was raised by her aunt before moving back with her mother in Detroit during the 1940’s. In the story, Betty’s mother Ollie Mae is a harsh woman who has no patience for Betty. Betty feels unloved and ends up moving in with a loving couple from their church. There, Betty is able to thrive as a young woman, joining the Housewive’s League to raise awareness of the mistreatment of black people in Detroit. While they are not living with the Jim Crow laws, they still experience violence and discrimination, and have progress to make. Betty remembers to count her blessings and work hard to move her community forward.
What I liked about this book is that I learned about a period of time I might not have known about otherwise. It showed several sides of the story- while Betty and the Housewive’s League tried to get people to boycott stores they couldn’t be hired at (don’t give money to a store if they aren’t willing to hire black people), others felt like they had to do what they had to do to survive (if Sears is having a sale, that’s where people would go). We teach that you can make a difference, no matter how small, but Betty and other characters felt hopeless at times, not seeing the difference they were trying to make. I like that it’s based on a true story, and gives students perspective.
What I didn’t like about this book was how cruel Ollie Mae was to Betty. As an adult, I can understand that she was probably resentful of Betty, and angry with herself for not being a good mother, so it was easier for her to be mean to Betty rather than admit that she made mistakes herself. It was just hard for me to read as a mother, the way she was so awful to her.
Book 61 of 40
(Book 27 of 2018)
The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 (paperback)
by Christopher Paul Curtis
In The Watsons Go to Birmingham, the Weird Watsons are an African-American family living in Flint, Michigan during 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Kenny is the protagonist of the story, and the middle child. He has an older brother Byron who is called a delinquent, and a younger sister Joetta, who is compared to an angel. Each chapter tells a new story of how they are wacky, get into tough situations, or make their parents mad. Most of the story is humorous and highly entertaining, and we get to learn about life in Flint, life during the 1960s, and how many situations Kenny goes through parallel our own lives (as children). Then they travel to Birmingham to drop Byron off with their grandmother for the summer so she can attempt to straighten him out, and there is a church bombing. This is when things get a little strange… Kenny, it seems, goes into a depression, because he believed his sister was in the church and he saw the “Wool Pooh” (which might be Death?).
What I liked about this book was that for the most part, it was funny. Kenny has an interesting outlook on life, and he is a very good storyteller. It almost reminded me of “A Christmas Story” in the way he narrated from a bold point of view. I also appreciate that readers learn more about what life was like for an African American family during this time, including down south in Birmingham.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a bit unclear. I read this book aloud to my class, and most of my class thought Joetta died and we were reading about her ghost. Several thought Kenny died and his ghost saved her. I’m still not sure what saved Joetta- his love for her? That part was confusing.
Book 50 of 40
(Book 16 of 2018)
All American Boys (audiobook)
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
All American Boys is a book that needs to be in the hands of everyone. I really appreciate Jason Reynolds as an author, and I thought this one was really well co-written. Both voices come out loud and strong. It is about a boy named Rashad who is picking up some chips and soda, and is mistakenly accused of stealing by a cop. The cop then beats the crap out of him, putting him into the hospital. Quinn, in the mean time, witnessed what happened, but the cop is a family friend who is like a big brother to him. Quinn can’t get past the fact that what the cop did was wrong, and he has to decide whether to push aside his loyalty to do what is right. Rashad deals with his own feelings, being accused of doing something wrong just because he is black.
What I liked about this book was that it was told from two perspectives (and read by two different people on the audiobook). Rashad is a black teen, and Quinn is white. Jason Reynolds is a black author and Brendan Kiely white. I liked that it was written and told from a black and white perspective. I will never ever understand what it is like to be an African American living in America, facing discrimination and racism. What stood out to me was the list of rules Rashad had to learn that were not part of my education as a white teenager. These are the kinds of things that help us understand what is going on in today’s society (although I wouldn’t limit it to today- it seems like a lot hasn’t changed from 70 years ago).
What I didn’t like about this book (although I understand) is the cussing, only because I want to share this with my students. Unfortunately, while many of my students hear (and use) the kinds of words, I am not about to respond to angry parent complaints. It has a message that NEEDS to be heard, but it’s definitely a YA book.
Book 12 of summer 2017!
MARCH: Book One (paperback)
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
AR Level 4.6, 1 point
Book One of the MARCH trilogy introduces us to John Lewis’s upbringing and entrance into the Civil Rights Movement. Rep. Lewis was raised in the South on a farm. He preached to the chickens while fighting for the chance to attend school and gain an education. Others saw something in him and gave him the chance to use his skill and passion to meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and join the movement. In this book, he stages peaceful sit-ins so African Americans could eat at food counters.
What I like about this book is it gives details on something I know bits and pieces about. It is a graphic novel, and non-fiction, which is unusual. It is a great way to retell history in a way that is not exactly entertaining, but engaging. I want to make sure all of my students read this book so they learn about a part of history that is important, but not taught in detail.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something that can be helped. Because of the context, there is a lot of language in this book. I know the word nigger is one that is used in must my students listen to and their parents don’t blink an eye, but it different when I am providing a book that includes it. It is important for them to see how this word was used and why it isn’t to be taken lightly. I just worry that not everyone will see that, and I’ll have to take this valuable piece of literature out of my library.
Book 2 of Summer 2017!
Brown Girl Dreaming (hardcover)
by Jacqueline Woodson
AR Level 5.3, 5 points
Brown Girl Dreaming is an award-winning book by a poet I’d never heard of. I picked this book up, because I have to read all of the Newbery Award-winners and honorees. It is autobiographical and follows the life of little Jacqueline from when she was a little girl in Ohio to her time in South Carolina with her grandparents, and then her life in New York. Most takes place during the 1960’s when the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, etc. were in the news, and we get to see her perspective as a young black girl with roots in the north and the south. In addition, we get to read about Ms. Woodson’s evolution as a young writer. While this book delves into race and discrimination, it is very much about hope and faith and acceptance.
What I liked about this book was that it is written in poetry form. I know my students will also appreciate that. I will include it as a recommended read during my poetry unit at school, because while it tells a story, it is also a great example for figurative language and imagery. I also like that the main character tells her story in a hopeful way, rather than being negative. She doesn’t see her friends or others in terms of color, but she understands that she is isn’t treated equally, and has hope that she will someday.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little slow at times. I thought it would be a quick read, but it took me longer than expected. I can’t really say it was the book’s fault. Maybe I just lost focus in my pursuit of a lazy summer.
Book 8 of 40 (year 2)