We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

by Kadir Nelson

Hardcover, 2008



Local notes

796.357 Nel



Jump At The Sun (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 96 pages


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


Physical description

96 p.; 11.36 x 11.26 inches


0786808322 / 9780786808328



User reviews

LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Kadir Nelson, award-winning illustrator of children’s books, takes his first crack at writing one with We are the Ship. The result is impressive. Of course, as would be expected from Nelson, the illustrations are phenomenal – beautifully depicted realistic paintings with almost three-dimensional subjects. The book is a well-researched narrative of the Negro Leagues -- baseball teams formed, owned, and populated with African-Americans who were denied access to major league baseball because of racial segregation. This narrative is divided into ten sections – nine “innings” plus a final short chapter called “extra innings.” Nelson narrates using “we,” as if he stood shoulder to shoulder with these ball players, to make this history feel intimate and personal. He includes interesting tidbits, such as personal details about players, to make the tale even more engaging and lively. He backs everything up with an extensive bibliography and end notes. My only caveat is that there is a lot of text in what looks a picture book, so this book isn’t appropriate for very young children with short attention spans. However, older children and even adults will enjoy this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member BrittanyYoung
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson is a short nonfiction book about African-Americans who created their own baseball league during segregation. The actions of these athletes made baseball the game as it is today. It integrates racial discrimination with players’ fortunes and misfortunes. Nelson writes this story as a player in the league who goes through struggles and successes in fulfilling his baseball dream. Through it all, there are wonderful oil paintings that depict baseball in the 1920s.

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.
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LibraryThing member rpultusk
This history of Negro League Baseball is told from an anonymous "Everyman" perspective and details the beginnings of the league in the 1920s through its end in the late 1940s when Jackie Robinson crossed over to the Major League. The artistry of the book is absolutely incredible. The illustrations are oil paintings and contain exquisite detail. The book also contains biographical information on all of the significant figures from the League.

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.
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LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
I don't know which I enjoyed more in this book, the evocative voice, or the vivid artwork. Nelson chose to tell the story of Nego league baseball using an every-player voice, instead of a dry history you're listening to a player telling stories about the people he met and things he saw while playing with the legends of the Negro league.
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.
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LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
This beautifully illustrated book chronicles the rise and fall of Negro League Baseball. Full-page paintings give you a real look at some of the most talented baseball players of their time (and possibly of any time). The writing is also awesome. Using a collective "we", Kadir Nelson speaks with the voice of all Negro League players, like he's been there and seen everything that he talks about. He uses a very conversational tone, like you were sitting on the back porch with any one of the players and talking about the things he'd seen. Unfortunately, many of the Negro League players seem to have been lost over the passage of time. That makes this a very important book, a look at a neglected history.

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?
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LibraryThing member amanda_c
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.

Potential Use:
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.

Child Appeal::
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member readasaurus
Kadir Nelson's paintings are absolutely breathtaking and make this book a must-have for any school library. Nelson's comprehensive account of Negro League Baseball tells the tales of the major players as well as the lesser known ones. This would be a great resource for units on civil rights, black history, or even during gym class! The stories are relatively short, so a students could read one in a class period. The themes of discrimination, overcoming obstacles, teamwork, and the love of the game resonate throughout. The images will hook the kids and the stories will keep them there.… (more)
LibraryThing member SJKessel
Nelson, K. (2008). We Are the Ship: The story of the negro league baseball. New York: Jump at the Sun.


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.

Favorite Quotes:

“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.
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LibraryThing member edspicer
Kadir Nelson has won numerous awards for his awesome artistic talent and he may well continue those accolades with this exquisitely drawn story. In this book, however, Nelson demonstrates a flair for words as well. Written in an Everyman voice, Nelson tells the story of the Negro League baseball. The nine chapters—innings—of this book guide us through the league’s beginnings with its goal of showcasing the amazing talent of black athletes denied a place in Major League Baseball because of the racist attitudes of most of the owners. We meet Josh Gibson, Satchell Paige, and Jackie Robinson. Included in this book is a fold out spread of the first World Series teams. Throughout the book, the detailed drawings of the players serve as our ticket into the text. While it is easy to allow Nelson’s art to steal our basic assessment of the book’s value, the anecdotes and the voice are like a perfectly thrown changeup, very mindful of the deep oral traditions of African American literature. While the natural audience for this book is the baseball fan, art students and history students and anyone else that loves beautiful art and well-told history will enjoy this book. Younger students may pair this book with Willie and the All-Stars by Floyd Cooper, which tells the story of the thrashing given to the white baseball players when they played against these same players Nelson describes.… (more)
LibraryThing member emgalford
Nelson, K. (2008). We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

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.
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LibraryThing member delphica
(#1 in the 2009 Book Challenge)

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.

Grade: A-
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.
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LibraryThing member richiespicks
Richie's Picks: WE ARE THE SHIP: THE STORY OF NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL by Kadir Nelson, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, January 2008, 88p., ISBN: 0-7868-0832-2

"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.
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LibraryThing member dcarlill
Wrtten in a clever manner in that the chapters are not really chapters, but innings. Each focuses on a player in the Negro league and the impact on baseball. Overall it shows the love of the American past time, baseball although segregation, bigotry and differences are addressed.
LibraryThing member CChristophersen
This is a story of the Negro Baseball League. It tells of the athletes and their stories. There is discrimination, segregation, and the affects of these conditions on these men who wanted to play baseball. The author shares the rich history of the league from the 1920's through it's eventual decline. The reader can get to know some of these great players.… (more)
LibraryThing member shumphreys
This book is a wonderfully illustrated history of the Negro Baseball League. The title refers to a quote from the league owner who said once, referring to the fledgling league, "We are the ship; all else the sea." Many well known and not so well known stars of the major leagues had their careers start in the Negro League, during the first half of the twentieth century. The gameplay was very different, as outfielders would perform vaudeville acts and pitchers would play as dirty as they could. While attempting to make their league look professional enough for fans to be interested, they delighted in being down-to-earth agile athletes that loved the game so much that they would play pickup games against anyone with a full set of players and a pulse. That's not to say they weren't any good. They broke even or better playing against the Major Leaguers, pitching faster, running faster, hitting harder, and playing smarter. The reader is introduced to the famous Jackie Robinson, but also to the stars of the Negro League like Leroy "Satchel" Paige and James "Cool Papa" Bell.

Grades 3-8. Appeal - wide. Group read-aloud.
Strengths - rich illustrations, interesting conversational style text, anecdotal
weaknesses - none
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LibraryThing member KimSiljeg
Fabulous book about the history of Negro baseball. Illustrations are absolutely breath taking. Kadir Nelson is so talented. This book would be a little long to read in a classroom but I could see segments of it being incorporated into specific lessons.
LibraryThing member macee
We Are The Ship is a Robert F. Sibert and Corretta Scott King Award winner.
LibraryThing member AndreaGough
- 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.
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LibraryThing member EdGoldberg
Kadir Nelson, through interviews with some of the Negro League greats, has put together a wonderful book about the Negro Leagues. It tells the story of many of the players, some of whom went on to stardom in the Major Leagues. It tells of the prejudice exhibited to many of the players by whites, while at the same time they crowded the stadiums to watch them play. It also tells of some comraderie between white and black players.

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.
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LibraryThing member kkcrossley
This tells the story of the early Negro baseball leagues. Done cleverly in nine inning chapters. Highlights talents of men that had been lost to obscurity. Begins with the first league set up in 1920 and ends with Jackie Robinson breaking the black/white barrier in baseball. Fantastic photos catch the spirit of truly great sportsmen.… (more)
LibraryThing member savannah.julian
Through the perspective of the players, this book tells the lesser know stories of the members of the negro baseball leagues from the 1920's to 1947. A fantastic story with illustrations to match. A pleasure to read and look at.
LibraryThing member anokaberry
As the major leagues open their seasons again this week, this book renews our faith in the poetry of the game, the beauty of the players, and the vitality and fervent dedication of the fan. An unforgettable book. An introduction or reminder of the greatest names in baseball and their part in the struggle that continues for equality and human dignity in our day. The art is stunning, an exhibition in a book. Thank You, Kadir.… (more)
LibraryThing member shomskie
This was an interesting book. It talks about African Americans and their start up in major league baseball. It touched on a lot of different things such as how it came about, the struggles faced, the good and th bad. This story caught my eye because it's something that interests me. I'm from Philadelphia and we have always dedicated a lot of time to learning about the the past, present, and future of Black History. I also played Softball for 12 years so I shared a common interest.… (more)
LibraryThing member roseannes
I am not really a baseball fan, but this book still kept my attention. The illustrations were really neat and made it feel like they were photographs or actual stills from what was really happening which was nice, but weren't completely my favorite style. The narrator's tone of voice was very conversational and made it also come alive. He told the story of the Negro Leagues from their beginnings to their end. I enjoyed it and thought it would be a great book for a unit on multiculturalism or history.… (more)
LibraryThing member alexandraharris
This book does a great job of telling a story about the Negro Baseball league. I think that it provides a great way to introduce to students how America once was by using a current American pass time. Through this telling story of the lives of these men we are able to see how far we have come and how far we still have to go.… (more)






(157 ratings; 4.5)
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