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Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (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, $15.95. Ages 8 up.
CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 2005)
Ntozake Shange’s 1983 poem “Mood Indigo,” which she wrote as a tribute to many of the Black American men “who changed the world,” is the text of a powerful picture book stunningly illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Shange’s poem references “Mood Indigo” as the title of a song by Duke Ellington, who, along with musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Robeson, move in and out of the home of the poem’s narrator—a young woman looking back on her childhood. Other visitors include W.E.B. DuBois, Virgil “Honey Bear” Akins and President Kwame Nkurmah of Ghana. The poem speaks to the cultural and social history of African Americans as well as continuing struggles: “politics as necessary as collards,” “sonny til was not a boy”, “virgil akins was not the only fighter,” “our windows were not cement or steel.” Nelson’s full-page portraits of the men conversing and interacting with one another, watched by the young girl, provide an elegant visual narrative. Each painting is beautifully composed and balanced, full of vibrant, dignified individuals. Brief biographical information about each individual referenced in the text is provided on the final two pages in a book that is an enriching encounter with history, art, and poetry. CCBC categories: Poetry. 2004, Simon & Schuster, 32 pages, $15.95. Ages 6-18.
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2003 (Vol. 71, No. 22))
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. 2004, Simon & Schuster, $15.95. Category: Picture book. Ages 4 to 8. Starred Review. © 2003 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
At once personal and universal, Shange's poem, "Mood Indigo" (published in her 1983 poetry collection,
Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March 2004 (Vol. 57, No. 7))
Shange’s poem "Mood Indigo," an adult recollection of a childhood spent "in the company of men/ who changed the world," receives a literal treatment through illustrations that follow a demure little girl who nonchalantly interacts with the mid-twentieth-century African-American luminaries who visit her father. As a freestanding poem addressed to adults, the text is charged with sadness over the passage of a long generation of achievers from activity into memory, and with barely suppressed anger over the shuttering of segments of the African-American community though fear and demographic change. Once "Ellington was not a street," but a vibrant artist, and Shange/narrator remembers when "our windows were not cement or steel/ our doors opened like our daddy’s arms/ held us safe & loved." Snaring and caging intense emotions within a picture-book framework brings the poem to young children’s attention, but the result is problematic: though the pictures are luminous, they limit and constrict the poem, and the featured little girl is too young to capture the interest of those readers old enough to begin to grasp the text’s implications. If the audience does not (or, more likely, cannot) share Shange’s grasp of community evolution, they must be forgiven for simply puzzling over who this little girl is and how her father came to preside over so impressive a salon. Nelson’s domestic scenes are, to be sure, carefully crafted. Opposite the title page, a young lady on a piano bench clutches an old LP; her pensive gaze follows the trajectory of the grand piano lid that bisects a painting of (presumably) Ellington’s orchestra. A later scene of a house party, viewed looking in from streetside, packs an easy-moving, spirited crowd of affectionately caricatured guests into a tight space of precisely centered, bourgeois propriety. A spread of biographical notes introduces these A-list members, but without sufficient historical background, children may unfortunately regard this as little more than an illustrated list of names to know. Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 2004, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2004, Simon, 40p, $15.95. Grades 3-6.
|Language||Call Number||LCCN||Dewey Decimal||ISBN/ISSN|
|English (eng)||PS3569.H3324 E45 2004