Friday, October 9, 2020

Freeform Friday: Betty Before X - Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson

Summary: 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. (summary and image from

My Review: I loved the gentle flow of this book, and I fell in love with Betty's poetic, childlike voice. The way she saw the world, the way she described things was so visual and felt so real and beautiful, it was like a painting.

This book takes the difficult emotions and struggles of the character, things like not knowing if her mother loves her or even wants her, to seeing a lynching in the town, to parting with dear friends over differences of opinions about how they should approach race relations.  These are all very hard and difficult things to take in, but somehow the prose manages to make it understandable.

And then there's Betty as a character, there were little things that just made her so rounded: the specific music she loved, her hobby of sewing, her pranks with her friend, sneaking out during church services to buy candy--these little things just made Betty such a real kid.  The other thing I loved about her was the way she would count her blessings.  Some nights she had so many things to be thankful for, and others she couldn't think of any and took a break.  But she always came back around to remembering how beautiful the world is, and how she was working to make a small difference.

I think the coolest thing about this whole book is that before picking it up, I never knew about Dr. Betty Shabbaz.  But learning more about her from both the story and the short history at the back of the book made me want to learn more--this was a pretty awesome woman.  I love books like these because they are especially cool for kids--to see that these great people were once little and childlike as they are, that they can see how others live life differently, but more importantly, see similarities.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Betty's mother isn't always the kindest, and sometimes beats her.  There is also a scene where there is a lynching, and dead bodies are hanging from a tree, and talk of a black boy murdered by police.

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