Sunday, February 04, 2007

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, by Walter Dean Myers

I read the Alex Haley ghost-written Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was 16 and a junior in high school. I can't remember which book I discovered first--Roots, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but these were the books I was reading the same year when I watched LA burn and disintegrate in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. This was when I stopped standing up for the pledge of allegiance, swearing that I wouldn't repeat those words until there really was "justice for all" in America. I still remember the sting I felt when Malcolm told some well intentioned white woman that he had absolutely no use for her support in the struggle for black liberation. I remember admiring this powerful orator and imagining the fierce love that fueled his anger and work. I was devastated and full of sorrow when I reached the end of the book and read about his assassination. I am certainly a gen x-er in that I have very few people that I admire or consider heroes, but Malcolm has always been my one exception. Ever since I read his autobiography, when I was 16, Malcolm X has been a hero of mine. My raw, adolescent idealism still shapes this admiration, fifteen years later.

Walter Dean Myer's elegant, eloquent biography of Malcolm X is a wonderful introduction to this great man. Myers is a poetic storyteller who I believe captures the incredible spirit of this leader and also represents the broader social and historical context of the civil rights movement far better than Spike Lee in his 1992 movie. The content and prose are very accessible and appropriate for kids as young as 11, although it's rich and complex enough of a narrative to keep older readers engaged as well. Esme talks about how the best children's and YA authors are folks who know how to take the hand of a child and walk with them across a terrifyingly busy street. Myers has accomplished that delicate balance with this book and it is my hope that many children that I love will meet and begin a relationship with Malcolm and his ideas through this outstanding book.

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