We Are the Ship sails the sea of Negro League Baseball

March 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball words and paintings by Kadir Nelson, foreword by Hank Aaron; published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, New York; 2008.

Kadir Nelson’s first attempt at writing a children’s book is a home run.  Coupled with his illustrations, he has captured the story of Negro League Baseball in a way that will appeal to young and old alike.  It is unusual for a nonfiction book to be narrated but in the case of We Are the Ship, it seems the only way to tell the story.  Nelson’s narrator is the voice of every man that played the great game of baseball during the segregated years. Immediately, I envisioned a grandchild sitting on the sofa next to Granddad, who has a photo album in his lap.  He is expressing his joy, frustration, and victories as a ball player and as a man.  Aside from the remarkable story-like appeal of the book, the facts are fascinating.  Do you know who created the first shin protectors worn by a catcher?  Or who wore the first batting helmet (bonus points if you know what that first helmet was used for originally!)?

To talk about a Kadir Nelson book without discussing the illustrations is unthinkable!  Images in We Are the Ship express the strength, smarts and skills of the players in remarkable realistic detail.  The paintings are based on photographs from collections at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  Prints are available for purchase at Kadir Nelson’s website: http://www.kadirnelson.com/we-are-the-ship-store.html#page1.

This book’s brilliance was rewarded with the 2009 Coretta Scott King Award for an author and the 2009 Robert Sibert Medal for nonfiction.

I have loved baseball since I kept a transistor radio under my pillow in elementary school.  My favorite childhood vacation was to Cooperstown, New York.  I thought I knew a great deal about the game.  I was wrong.  Like much of history, there is a subculture that is usually left out.  I highly recommend “sitting at Granddad’s knee” and listening to the story of Negro League Baseball.  Although the story is very accessible, We Are the Ship is told in great detail (the chapters are named for the 9 innings of the game, plus an extra innings chapter as an epilogue), therefore I recommend it for older readers (upper elementary and even into middle and high school) and even adults.

As a librarian, I would add this book to a spring training or baseball display.  I’d include it in pathfinders about the game, paired with fiction (like Mike Lupica’s Heat) and a list of Web resources, especially the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Play ball!


Entry filed under: Coretta Scott King Award (author or illustrator), Multicultural Picture Book, Robert Sibert Informational Book Medal or Honor Book. Tags: , , , , , , .

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