Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ellington was not a street

ellington was not a street was written by Ntozake Shange and illustarted by Kadir Nelson.  It was published in 1983 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

ellington was not a street has a captivating cover, which makes you just want to pick it up.  It is just of a little African American girl holding a record, but the illustration is so beautiful with the glow in her face to the bold color of her dress, that it makes you wonder what story she has to tell. It is a book written by Ntozake Shange which portrays the poem, Mood Indigo, as a picture book.  It is from the perspective of a young girl, reflecting on the inspirational men of her time.  These men, such as W.E.B Dubois, Duke Ellington, Ray Barretto and Virgil "Honey Bear" Akins.  Written about a time where black men and women were not allowed to make daily choices, such as where to sit on a bus or go to eat, this poem shows the strengths that many black men of the time period had.  You can read the poem (exactly as written) below.

Mood Indigo

it hasnt always been this way
ellington as not a street
robeson no mere memory
du bois walked up my father's stairs
hummed some tun over me
sleeping the the company of men
who changed the world

it wasnt always like this
why ray barretto used to be a side-man
& dizzy's hair was not always grey
i remember         i was there
i listened in the company of men
politics as necessary as collards
music even in our dreams

our house was filled with all kinda folks
our windows were not cement or steel
our doors opened like our daddy's arms
held us safe & loved
children growing in the company of men
old southern men & young slick ones
sonny til was not a boy
the clovers no rag-tag orphans
our crooners/ we belonged to a whole world
nkrumah was no foreigner
virgil akins was not the only fighter

it hasn't always been this way
ellington was not a street

I didn't care for the poem written out in the picture book, but I got a lot more out of it when it was in its stanzas. When reading it as a picture book, it just felt like a story. I felt as though it lost some of its significance, as it was not read as fluidly.  The pictures within the book are stunning, winning the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2005.  They make the men in the book come alive and pop off the page, which was the best thing about the book.  At the end of the book, you can read Mood Indigo as it was originally written.  I felt more power coming from it as a poem.  The breaks in the lines make you stop and think about what you just read and you feel the importance of the repeated line -- it hasn't always been this way -- more strongly. I feel as though it sounds more significant and profound as the poem.

If you would like to read ellington was not a street, you can find it on WorldCat.  There are many other reviews of this book on Goodreads.

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