Ellington Was Not A Street (Ntozake Shange)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ellington Was Not A Street, written by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a beautiful look through a child’s eyes at the men who make history in the time before they do, when they are simply men.

Using flowing free verse without punctuation or capitalization, the spare text of Shange’s poem “Mood Indigo” accompanies Nelson’s detailed paintings to tell a narrative. It begins with a shot of “Ellington Street” in an unnamed city, with the text immediately reminding the reader that “it hasnt always been this way/ ellington was not a street”. From there, it tells the story of a little girl welcoming her father at the door and watching as a group of black luminaries (DuBois, Robeson, Gillespie, Nkrumah, etc.) gathers in her home to meet, dine, and throw parties with the girl’s family.

Based on the author’s childhood home – where several great black musicians and leaders would often gather when she was a child – this is a fantastic book on several levels. With an appendix that highlights each man’s impact and rich, lifelike art that brings their conversations to life, it serves as a wonderful way to introduce these historic black figures to young readers, especially in an age when many of them are remembered only for their last names on street signs, awards or plaques. It also reminds children that these great heroes of music and civil rights were also simply men with families, friends, and children. It both highlights and humanizes them, making them all the more fascinating to learn about. The art is stunning, with a warm and inviting quality that draws you into the home the story is based around. The length is great, and JJ and I both enjoyed it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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