Using an "Everyman" player as his narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through the decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. Illustrations from oil paintings by artist Kadir Nelson.
Original publication date
I would definitely teach this book to my classroom. First, it is a nonfiction book that is interesting, mainly to boys, but interesting nonetheless. In addition, there are two major points in the book that I would love to teach to a classroom. The first theme is perseverance. The African-Americans in the book show how the players overcame all of the hardships during that time period, which is what I would love to teach my students. The second major thing that I would use this book to teach is the history of something that no one really knows much about, the Negro Baseball League.
Overall, I liked this book. It was interesting and the pictures were amazingly drawn. The topic is one that I did not know anything about, but the emotions that the writings and pictures inspired in me were wonderful. I would highly recommend this book to readers who are looking for an interesting nonfiction book that tells the history of something special.
In addition to the paintings, the book itself is quite aesthetically pleasing. Nelson incorporates significant quotations in creative ways. The style of the book includes a variety of page layouts, including a particularly wonderful fold-out of a ticket from the first World Series that opens to a detailed portrait of the players on both teams.
The book is written for middle school students and above. It is long and not designed to be read aloud as a picture book.
Highly recommended for elementary, middle, and high school libraries.
But the paintings have such a sense of richness and personality - even in team portraits individuals jump off the page with liveliness.
I'd give this book to someone interested in baseball, civil rights, or art.
And that's why it surprised me so much that the women who played in the Negro League were not mentioned at all. I would have given this book a much higher rating, but it seems a glaring omission to me. Albeit, most of the action wraps up around 1945 when Jackie Robinson signed with the Major Leagues. And Mamie Johnson, Toni Stone, and Connie Morgan didn't join the league until somewhere around 1953. But it still seems like Nelson is doing to the women players what white people did to the African-American players... by neglecting to mention them, he's effectively erasing them from history. The subtitle of the book proclaims it to be "the story of Negro League Baseball". Why aren't women a part of that story?
Author-illustrator Kadir Nelson’s stunning paintings and deftly approachable narration in colloquial speech make this history of the Negro Baseball Leagues a non-fiction children’s book of the highest quality.
This book would be an excellent resource for any school library, a boon to lesson plans, and a gift to any child interested in the history of baseball.
Nelson doesn’t just bring Negro League greats to life, he imbues these decades-old sports heroes a sense of stone-faced cool that should appeal to any baseball-loving child at a time when modern heroes in the sport are lamentably scarce.
We Are the Ship uses a unique voice to share the experiences of African Americans who were unofficially not allowed to participate in the white baseball leagues and instead set out and formed their own league. This award-winning book has been honored not only for the information it shares but also for the paintings that are featured throughout the book. Many interesting facts are also included. My favorite chapter, or inning as they’re called in this book, is the second inning, “A Different Brand of Baseball.” Which shares many of the quirky happenings that separated the negro league from others and made the games especially interesting.—one player caught balls while resting in a rocking chair, another would pretend to read the newspaper. You get the idea.
This unusual fully-illustrated information book, includes a unique narrative voice that asserts having experienced the negro baseball leagues of the first part of the twentieth century. It also assumes blackness on the part of the reader and draws comparisons between then and now when it comes to the way baseball is played.
A cross between a picture and chapter book, this book may especially appeal to reluctant readers who love baseball. If the student declares him or herself “too old for picturebooks” a teacher could reinforce the fact that there are many interesting sports facts they won’t be able to find anywhere else.
While this book may be intended for boys, I still think the lack of women described is worthy of complaint. (It does manage to incorporate information about some of the central American leagues, but is completely silent about women players). The only woman mentioned at all is Effa Manley who owned the Newark Eagles with her husband. There were, however, a few mentions of women in general:
1. “Women have always loved ballplayers, you know” (p. 34).
2. “Latin women sure were pleasing to the eye” (p. 53).
3. In bigger cities “ladies’ night” games would include beauty or swimsuit contests (p. 66).
What about the women who were married to the league members? The mothers? Daughters? Were they not worthy of a mention? Ever?
As a woman who has yet to love a baseball player, know any woman who has loved a baseball player (historically or presently) and who enjoys being a sex object more than ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD (it’s why I get up in the morning, dress professionally and conservatively and then go off and teach children’s literature), I’m vaguely offended by all of this. The narrator, who consistently speaks of ‘us’ and ‘we’ in the voice of an old school black ballplayer, apparently meant 'not women' and 'not me' in that ‘us’. As if women haven’t already been excluded from enough sports conversations and leagues historically. You kinda dropped the ball there, Kadir Nelson.
Rant over, I promise.
Activities to do with the book:
This information book could be used to flesh out a lesson about the history of sports or a lesson about segregation, structural and personal. The story could be used as an example of writing that has a strong voice and could be a model for students to create their own writing voices and narrators.
A teacher could use the illustrations to do a study on creating portraits or how to show movement. Seriously, look at some of these paintings, how they capture the details of the players and give them a sense of power.
I probably wouldn’t just hand this information book to most students. Rather, I’d share small anecdotes from the book to help create interest.
And of course after reading this, students could play ball.
“We are the ship; all else the sea” (Rube Foster)
“Seems like we’ve been playing baseball for a mighty long time. At least as long as we’ve been free. Baseball’s the best game there ever was. It’s a beautifully designed game that requires a quick wit, a strong body, and a cool head” (p. 1).
“Some guys would clown on the field. Throw the ball behind their backs and get the guy out at first. Or play shadow ball, where the infielders would whip an imaginary ball around the bases. If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought they had a real ball” (p. 17).
For more of my reviews, visit sjkessel.blogspot.com.
In We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, the reader learns about the players of the historic Negro League baseball. The author tells the story through the perspective of a player in the league. The history of the league is told from its beginning in the 1920’s to its decline in 1947. The author does an amazing job recreating the dialect and speech of the players of that time. It is truly an historic experience to read the story; you being to feel that you are there with the players. The story is an excellent history of the league and focuses on the hardships and triumphs of the players. These men had to deal with the issues of segregation, hatred, and low pay so they could play the sport they loved. Perhaps the best part of this book is the illustrations. There are many, beautiful illustrations throughout the book depicting the players of the Negro League. They serve as an excellent visual tool for understanding the history and struggle of these African American men. This is a story that could be appreciated by people of different times and places. It is a historical account of a baseball league created on race and the injustices that race was suffering. Baseball is a sport that has been played for many years worldwide, and will probably continue to be played for many more years. Any baseball player or lover of baseball can appreciate this story. This book is the 2009 Coretta Scott King Award winner.
This book would be an excellent addition to an elementary school library. I would recommend this story for any baseball loving child. It is not just a story about baseball; it is a historical account of a little recognized and appreciated baseball era. I would use this book with an upper elementary school class during Black History month. I think it would be interesting to have the students choose a player or important event from the book and share it with the class. This way the students could teach each other about this important part of African American history.
This has both rich illustrations and substantial narrative text, so this is eligible for the Newbery as well as the Caldecott (I think). If you are a person who likes the history of baseball, or the history of sport in general, this is a great book for you even if you do not usually read a lot of kids' illustrated books. One of the things I like about Nelson's artwork is that his style has a lot of 1930s/1940s/WPA influences, and that's a great mesh for this subject matter. The story of the book is told in a collective voice, which works pretty well, and incorporates quite a bit of source quotation from actual Negro League players. As a whole package, I was so impressed with this. Upon reflection, I did notice something about the story ... it's a very general overview of what the Negro Leagues were and what their significance was to baseball, and to the history of race in America. But because it's so sweeping, it never focuses in on specific individuals or incidents, which in the end makes it lack tension and there's not any "up and down" in the story.
Recommended: Anyone, kid or adult, who likes the history of baseball. If you do not like baseball at all, you may be at a bit of a loss as to what to make of this.
"We didn't really know how rough it was in the Negro Leagues until some of our guys went up to the majors. Play was a lot 'nicer' there. In our league, everything was legal. We would do whatever it took to win. Pitchers threw anything and everything. Spitters, shine-balls, emery balls, cut balls -- you name it. They cut that ball to pieces and had curveballs breaking about six feet! Throw a new white ball to the pitcher, and it would come back brown from all the tobacco juice and what-have-you. You never knew what the ball was going to do once it left the pitcher's hand. And throwing at the batter was common. The pitcher would knock you down just to mess with your head. Look up at the umpire, and he'd just say. 'Get up and play ball, son.' That's why the batting helmet was invented. When Willie Wells was just a rookie, he found the ball was making its way toward his head a little more often than he liked, so he decided to wear an old miner's helmet when he stepped up to the plate. Boy, did they laugh at him! But today, you won't find a ballgame played without batting helmets."
A lot of hurt resulted from the evils of segregation in America. But when it came to so-called "black" music and "white" music, wasn't it ignorant whites who got the short end of the stick if they failed to experience the music being created by Black Americans whether it be the musicians of the Harlem Renaissance or Marian Anderson or 'Train and Miles or the stars of Motown or George Clinton or Tupac?
"Oscar Charleston was a mean son-of-a-gun. He would just about go looking for trouble. One time he snatched the hood off a Ku Klux Klansman."
Sure, there were a host of indignities experienced by the black Americans who took the field in Negro League Baseball and then had to find places to eat, sleep, shower, and pee. Kadir Nelson does an excellent job of illuminating those difficulties. But after reading WE ARE THE SHIP, there is no doubt that -- just as with the music -- those who wasted opportunities to experience Negro League Baseball were the ones who was poorer for it.
WE ARE THE SHIP is a raucous, joyous, visual and textual celebration of Negro League Baseball that will leave its readers wishing that there was a stash of vintage film somewhere that we might all have a chance to view the long-ago hijinks and incredible skills of black ballplayers who were every bit as good and better than the white guys in the so-called major leagues. America did belatedly got a look at a number of veteran Negro League stars who were eventually permitted to join the majors. Unfortunately, in contrast to the few like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella who got to spend many of their prime years in the majors, the majority of the stars whom we meet in WE ARE THE SHIP were either too old to follow Jackie there or merely got to play out their final years, long beyond their best seasons and the heroics (and antics) that Kadir Nelson speaks of here.
"Umpiring wasn't always that great, either. Some of those guys wouldn't have known a strike from their left foot. At one time, the league had official umpires, but they couldn't travel with the teams. It was too expensive. A few of the umpires were former players. Pop Lloyd and Wilber 'Bullet' Rogan used to ump later on in their careers. Those guys were tough. They had to be, with guys like Oscar Charleston and Jud Wilson in the league. At one game in Kansas City, there were three umpires. Rogan was behind home plate, and the other two were at first and third. A play took place at third base, and Rogan ran down the line. He called the man out, and the base umpire called him safe. They started to argue and got into a fight. Bullet Rogan pulled out a knife, and the other guy panicked and took off running toward the center-field fence and climbed over it. The next day it was in the papers. Rogan had a bad temper. We wouldn't argue too much with him about balls and strikes. Whatever he called you, you would just let it go. He was old, but he'd fight you anyway. Some guys even played with a gun in their uniforms. It was a rough league."
Sure, I, myself, had read some book about the Negro Leagues back when I was a kid. I knew the names of Sachel Page and Josh Gibson. But Kadir Nelson truly brings the wild scene to life. WE ARE THE SHIP is a celebration that you must not miss.
Grades 3-8. Appeal - wide. Group read-aloud.
Strengths - rich illustrations, interesting conversational style text, anecdotal
weaknesses - none
- Kadir Nelson relates the story of the negro baseballs leagues, from inception to demise in easy to understand yet detailed prose. Full pages packed with small print text are faced with full page illustrations. As per usual, Nelson's paintings are vivid and atmospheric, true works of art that perfectly accompany the text.
- Recommended for ages 8- 13.
- Not explained by radical change.
For anyone interested in baseball, Majors, Minors, Negro League, etc, this is a must read. The history of baseball is incomplete without understanding the Negro League.