X: A Novel

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X: A Novel
Written by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoo

Publisher’s Summary:
Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s a pack of lies–after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Primary Source Pairing:
Growing up in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm Little had a rough childhood. His family did all they could to make ends meet but it wasn’t enough. Eventually, Malcolm moves to Boston to live with his half-sister. His world opens up to new sights and sounds that would influence him for years to come. This fascinating book is not only a look into the early years of Malcolm X’s life but also a glimpse into the culture and vibrancy of this time in our country’s history.

For this primary source pairing, invite students to consider the music of Malcolm’s youth using five famous musicians from the 1940s.  During his time at the Roseland Theater in Boston or at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, Malcolm let jazz fill his ears and guide his feet to the dance floor. The music of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller, and Count Baise defined this era and served as the soundtrack for Malcolm’s young adulthood.

Questions for Discussion:

Record Albums:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What can you learn from examining this?
  • If someone created something like this today, what would be different?
  • What would be the same?

Music Videos:

  • Describe what you see and hear.
  • What do you notice first?
  • Does anything about it seem strange or unusual?
  • What other details do you notice?
  • Who are the people who appear in it?
  • If someone created this video recording today, what would be different?
  • Make a connection between something you hear in the music and an experience Malcolm X had as a young man with music.

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Malcolm X at Queens Court Photograph: Library of Congress
Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit Album: Wikimedia.org
Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean a Thing Album: rateyourmusic.com
Glenn Miller – Chattanooga Choo Choo Album: Wikipedia.org
Lionel Hampton – Flying Home Album: 45worlds.com
Count Baise, Swingin’ the Blues Album: www.discogs.com

Additional Primary Source Pairings as Further Reading Material:
I, Too, Am America, Written by Langston Hughes, Illustrated by Bryan Collier
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie