Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange (Book Review)
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Ntozake Shange is a poet whose name may feel funny in your mouth and who's face you may not recognize. Have no doubt that she is a very influential woman. She is best known for her award-winning choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf, which was later turned into a movie of the same name.
She also wrote a poem called "Mood Indigo" which was later turned into the children's book Ellington Was Not a Street. It's a remembrance of some of Black history's great men who knew Shange's parents and would attend parties at her family's home. She grew up interacting with poets and musicians we now think of as the founders of our beautiful African-American culture.
Her work is accompanied by Kadir Nelson, an author and illustrator who has published more award-winning books than I have time to write here. You'll be familiar with his cover art and illustrations on:
Drake's album "Nothing Was The Same"
He as also done a number of covers for The New Yorker and the concept art for Steven Spielberg's Amistad. His work is all over the place and works with Shange's writing seamlessly.
Shange, as the little girl, remembers these historical figures as great men, but more on the human side than on the heroic side. Her words are smooth and warm, like a familiar jazz piece. She laments that we have forgotten the men whom we have named our city streets after.
I loved the illustrations and the feel of each picture. The original poem reads as a sad remembrance but the illustrations make it a joyous story. As you progress through the poem you see more and more faces pile into the home. Every face is warm and kind, and you feel that as you read the book.
This book is a wonderful primer for introducing these figures to our children. Nelson shows them laughing and singing, in the throws of passionate conversations. If we use this and other books like this as the starting point for Black History, not just the speeches and the terror, then we give our children a thoughtful account of what our lives were like.
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About the Author
Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to fill your bookshelves with beloved authors of the African Diaspora. When she's not hanging out on line, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.