No part of Malcolm X’s life was free from conflict and contradiction, including his childhood. Raised in a spiritual and pacifist home, Malcolm grew up to espouse a more violent philosophy in pursuit of social justice and died violently himself. Malcolm Little tells the story of his early years as part of a large, loving family whose lives were torn apart by racial aggression. This lovely, inspiring book reveals how young Malcolm was able to draw on inner resources to find himself.

Author Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, writes affectionately about her father’s mischievous streak and endless thirst for knowledge. Whether he was planting peas in the family garden plot or listening to his father preach, young Malcolm was observant and reflective.

Using a palette of autumnal colors, illustrator A.G. Ford emphasizes Malcolm’s wide brown eyes, taking in everything around him and gazing at his mother, who read to the children from a book clutched in one hand while folding laundry or preparing supper. A Monarch butterfly makes a recurring appearance throughout Malcolm Little, and Malcolm’s mother explains that it was once a caterpillar whose beauty develops over time.

Then one day, the Little family home was burned to the ground. The fire burning against the night sky is frightening, but the flames echo the gentle colors of the butterfly. Later, Earl Little died at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. The family was then separated, and Malcolm lived with neighbors in the community. Isolated at first, he very slowly regained his confidence and a sense of joy by remembering the lessons his mother passed along.

Malcolm Little is a terrific introduction to a polarizing historical figure and an inspiring tale that children can apply to their own lives. We all face adversity at one time or another; it’s how we respond that counts.

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