Monday, February 7, 2011

Ellington Was Not A Street, Ntozake Shange

In Case You Missed It

African-American poetry night is coming up at school this week, so off I went to the library. This week I will share some of the very wonderful books and poems I found.

ellington was not a street, by Ntozake Shange, illustrations by Kadir Nelson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004

"it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street"

So begins this lovely children's picture book from Ntozake Shange (author of For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow was enuf) in which she remembers her childhood and the notable men who gathered in her family's home - actors, activists, singers, and musicians. The text is in fact from her previously published poem Mood Indigo. In very few words, she manages to evoke both the historical importance of the work these men did and the warmth and comfort of the home she grew up in. For example she remembers W.E.B. DuBois "hummed some tune over me" and talked with her father as she lay sleeping on the couch. She also touches on a different way of life ("our windows were not cement or steel,") and at generational differences (visitors included "old southern men & young slick ones.") Most of the visitor's names will be familiar (Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie) and a few may not be, and it is helpful to find brief biographies are included at the end of the book. The illustrations by Kadir Nelson (illustrator of Spike and Tonya Lee's wonderful Please Baby Please) are charming and perfectly capture the mood of the story. This book is not only a child's introduction to some important African-Americans in our history, but just as importantly, a memory of love, family, and a vibrant community. Delightful to read aloud to children, and to admire the illustrations, or just appreciate the poetry.
Happy Reading!

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