Ellington Was Not a Street

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Overview

In a reflective tribute to the African-American community of old, noted poet Ntozake Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators that often gathered there. These men of vision, brought to life in the majestic paintings of artist Kadir Nelson, lived at a time when the color of their skin dictated where they could live, what schools they could attend, and even where they could sit on a bus or in a movie theater.
Yet in the face of this tremendous ...

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Overview

In a reflective tribute to the African-American community of old, noted poet Ntozake Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators that often gathered there. These men of vision, brought to life in the majestic paintings of artist Kadir Nelson, lived at a time when the color of their skin dictated where they could live, what schools they could attend, and even where they could sit on a bus or in a movie theater.
Yet in the face of this tremendous adversity, these dedicated souls and others like them not only demonstrated the importance of Black culture in America, but also helped issue in a movement that "changed the world." Their lives and their works inspire us to this day, and serve as a guide to how we approach the challenges of tomorrow.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Both the poem and Nelson's magnificent double-spread paintings give life to an era and a movement that today's kids may dismiss as "old people's stuff," frozen in textbooks, monuments and street signs. — Elizabeth Ward
Publishers Weekly
At once personal and universal, Shange's poem, "Mood Indigo" (published in her 1983 poetry collection, A Daughter's Geography), serves as the narrative for this elegiac tribute to a select group of African-American men who made important contributions to 20th-century culture. Nelson (Big Jabe) ingeniously sets the events in the home of the narrator, depicted as a curious, winning girl in oil paintings that strongly evoke the period and mood as the renowned visitors start to gather in her convivial, well-appointed house. Presented without punctuation, apostrophes or capital letters, the affectingly wistful verse flows freely and lyrically: "it hasnt always been this way/ ellington was not a street," it begins. Paul Robeson hangs his hat on a coat rack, emphasizing the man's larger-than-life presence and tall, athletic stature ("robeson no mere memory") while "du bois walked up my father's stairs" with the aid of a cane. Nelson conveys the learned man's advancing years but, once seated on the couch, Du Bois exudes wisdom and dignity. The volume culminates in a group portrait of Duke Ellington, percussionist Ray Barretto, jazz great Dizzy Gillespie and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, former president of Ghana, among others; this collective image drives home the point that these legendary figures were contemporaries who defined an era. Brief concluding biographical sketches tell readers more about these engaging personalities and may well lead to further reading. This is truly a book for all ages, lovely to behold and designed to be revisited. All ages. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The text of Shange's emotion-packed free verse is spread, a line or two, across the tall double pages. It is rich with the memories of a Harlem childhood, warm with family love, and filled with encounters with men of vision "who changed the world," such as Paul Robeson, W.E.B.Dubois, "Dizzy" Gillespie, and Duke Ellington. All those mentioned appear at the end with small portraits and descriptions of who they were. Naturalistic oil paintings, almost like a family album of color photographs, record the details of rooms and the people in them; a posed group shot of 30 friendly people adds specific vitality to the text's more general memories. The final full-length portrait of Ellington is stunning in its elegant directness, illuminating the man's gentle spirituality. 2004 (orig. 1983), Simon & Schuister Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 up.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3-8-Nelson illustrates the noted poet's "Mood Indigo," from her collection entitled A Daughter's Geography. The book begins with the opening lines of the poem set against a pale gray page: "it hasn't always been this way/ellington was not a street." Opposite, a full-page painting shows several people walking beneath a green sign that reads Ellington St. A young African-American woman carrying a red umbrella is prominently featured, and readers will soon understand that she is the child narrator, all grown up (the resemblance is striking). In the poem, Shange recalls her childhood when her family entertained many of the "-men/who changed the world," including Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Ray Barretto, Dizzy Gillespie, "Sonny Til" Tilghman, Kwame Nkrumah, and Duke Ellington. Both the words and the rich, nostalgic illustrations are a tribute to these visionaries. Done in oils, the skillfully rendered portraits emphasize facial expressions, clothing, and physical positioning on the page, and provide unmistakable insight into the persona of each individual. Although presented in picture-book format, the poem is sophisticated, and therefore it may need to be read aloud and explained to younger readers. A biographical sketch of each man appears at the end, along with the poem reprinted on a single page.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Deeply colored paintings enrich this homage to African-American men who made history and influenced culture, including Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Dizzy Gillespie, and W.E.B. DuBois. Nelson's setting is a home, filled with the folks who made it happen, as observed by a small girl whose presence, greeting the guests or peeking around the corners, adds the child's point of view. The poetic text is spare, with only a few words on each spread, but they match the majesty of the scene. Children will need context to understand the brief lines, and happily, an author's note provides it. In bell hooks style, none of the lines or names are capitalized, nor do they have punctuation. Intended for children today who know these names as commemorative plaques on buildings or streets, the deceptively simple text reveals the feel of the Harlem Renaissance: "Politics as necessary as collards, music even in our dreams." A tribute to what these men did for African-Americans, indeed all Americans, is soulfully and succinctly stated: "Our doors opened like our daddy's arms, held us safe and loved." Exquisite. (Picture book. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689828843
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 1/6/2004
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 5 - 11 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 12.20 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange, poet, novelist, playwright, and performer, wrote the Broadway-produced and Obie Award-winning For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. She has also written numerous works of fiction, including Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, Betsy Brown, and Liliane.

Kadir Nelson is the widely acclaimed illustrator of many books for children, including Thunder Rose, written by Jerdine Nolen, which received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award; Ellington Was Not a Street, written by Ntozake Shange, which received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; and Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life, written by Jerdine Nolen, which won the 2005 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal. He is also the illustrator of Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan’s Salt in His Shoes and Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee's Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please. Kadir Nelson lives with his family in San Diego, California.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 26, 2011

    Highly recommended

    This book was excellent.

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