Because  the observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (one of my earliest heroes) is this weekend, I wanted to choose a book for this Perfect Picture Book Friday that would honor that, while still featuring some connection to the arts, which is the broader theme of my work and my blog.

Since so many musicians (and writers, actors, and others involved in the arts) were a part of the American civil rights movement, I didn’t have to look far. This book pays warm tribute to many of the men (yes, there are solely men highlighted in the book) who played a part in this era in history.

Title: ellington was not a street

Author: Ntozake Shange

Illustrator:  Kadir Nelson

Publisher: New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children, 1983, 2004.

Genre: Poem rendered as a picture book; poeticized remembrance of the author’s childhood with reference to people “who changed the world”

Audience Age: age 5 to 11, grades K to 6

Theme: African-American history, African-American civil rights activists, African-American musicians, African-American poetry

Opening Sentences:
it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street
robeson no mere memory
du bois walked up my father’s stairs
hummed some tune over me
sleeping in the company of men
who changed the world

Synopsis: Through the simple words of the poem (that predated the picture book by 21 years) and the richly drawn illustrations, African-American musicians such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Robeson, writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, political leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, and others come to life. The poem and illustrations together tell of the childhood of the poet, who grew up in a house where civil rights work and music were as much the stuff of life as eating and breathing.

Why I like this book: It draws together the themes of music and civil rights history, and presents men who are often thought of as legendary figures in those fields as the real people they were, visiting the child’s house. It brings those names to life, and recalls a time when “ellington was not a street.”

Activities/Resources: Resources for all Coretta Scott King award winning books can be found at Teaching Books .

Hear the illustrator, Kadir Nelson, speak about this book here.

A PDF guide to the book, and an audio reading by Phylicia Rashad can be found here.

A transcript of an interview with the illustrator is available at Reading Rockets website.

Lesson Planet has many lesson plans with potential for use with this book (I believe there is a charge for use)

There are, of course, many resources available for the wider study of the African-American civil rights movement and the people who were involved, including resources for the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Availability: Readily available in hardcover.

# 9 in Perfect Picture Book Fridays. See all this week’s Perfect Picture Books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, or find the entire listing at the “Perfect Picture Books” tab on her blog.

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