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Children's Literature Reviews
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Ellington was not a street
written by Ntozake Shange ; illustrations by Kadir Nelson.
Contributor biographical information
Publisher description
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004.
1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 31 cm.

Best Books:

Best Children's Books of the Year, 2004 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Capitol Choices, 2005 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2004 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2005 ; Children's Literature; United States
Choices, 2005 ; Cooperative Children’s Book Center; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, November 15, 2003 ; United States
Notable Children's Books in the English Language Arts, 2005 ; NCTE Children's Literature Assembly; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2005 ; American Library Association ALSC; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, December 22, 2003 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, January 2004 ; Cahners; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2005 Winner Illustrator United States
NAACP Image Award, 2005 Nominee Outstanding Literary Work-Children's United States
Once Upon a World Children's Book Award, 2005 Winner United States
Parents' Choice Award, 2004 Gold Picture Books United States

Curriculum Tools:

Link to Coretta Scott King curricular resources at

Reading Measurement Programs:

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 3
Title Point Value 1
Lexile Measure NP


Ilene Cooper (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2004 (Vol. 100, No. 12))
The text of this picture book for older children is a paean to Shange's family home and the exciting men who gathered there, everyone from W. E. B. DuBois and Paul Robeson to Dizzy Gillispie and Duke Ellington. Taken from Shange's 1983 poem "Mood Indigo," the words here recall, from a child's perspective, what it was like to listen "in the company of men / politics as necessary as collards / music even in our dreams." The evocative words are more than matched by Nelson's thrilling, oversize oil paintings, a cross between family photo album and stage set, featuring this group of extraordinary men interacting--playing cards, singing, discussing. The girl who is always watching them is, unfortunately, portrayed as very young, perhaps three or four, although she appears somewhat older on the beguiling jacket art. Preschoolers are not the audience for this, and despite the helpful notes that introduce the men mentioned in the poem, even older children will need further explanations (e.g., where are the famous women?). Depicting the narrator as a child closer in age to the target audience would have helped bridge the gap between a poem written for adults and a book for children. Still, with words and pictures that are so enticing, this will be embraced by many. Category: Books for Middle Readers--Nonfiction. 2004, Simon & Schuster, $15.95. Gr. 3-5.

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, A Daughter's Geography\n), 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\n) 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.)\n"

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.


African American artists Juvenile poetry.
Children's poetry, American.
American poetry.
African American girls Juvenile poetry.
African American civil rights workers Juvenile poetry.
African Americans Poetry.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PS3569.H3324 E45 2004
00045060 811/.54
View the WorldCat Record for this item.