Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly

Book review by
Jennifer Gennari, Common Sense Media
Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly Book Poster Image
Complex issues make this best for older kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

At one time, Malcolm X advocated that blacks and whites should be completely segregated.

Violence & Scariness

Not shown but explained are two deaths--that of Malcolm X's father (who may have been murdered) and of Malcolm X, who is shot.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book doesn't soften Malcolm X's story. It addresses the full scope of his life, including poverty, imprisonment, struggle, and then assassination.

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What's the story?

There's no such thing as a nonviolent revolution! begins this biography of Malcolm X, launching right into his controversial speeches from the 1950s. The narrative describes his whole life without softening any of the details. The lengthy text, complex issues, and impressionistic paintings make this picture book most appropriate for kids at least nine years old.


Is it any good?

Malcolm X is often neglected by elementary schools, as the curriculum focuses on King; in that sense, this visually enticing picture book takes an important step in acknowledging Malcolm’s message. Some readers may not agree with the civil rights leader's message, because at one time he was a thief and an advocate of violence, and by all accounts a hot-tempered man. However, the targeted age group will learn that people can change.

It's admirable that Walter Dean Myers does not soften any aspect of Malcolm X's life and words. Because of the straightforward treatment, this picture book is clearly aimed at kids in third grade and up. Quotes from Malcolm run along the bottom of many pages, enriching the narrative. Leonard Jenkins' illustrations are provocative -- an interesting mix of realistic images of Malcolm against abstract backgrounds and foregrounds.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Malcolm X changed over the course of his life. What beliefs stayed constant? What beliefs changed? Do you think he was more effective or less effective as a leader and inspiration later in his life? Parents also can talk about Malcolm X in comparison with other civil rights leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr.

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