Nelson, Kadir. 2008. We are the ship: The story of Negro league baseball. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 9780786808328.
Plot Summary –
Nelson compiles a thorough and authoritative history of the black baseball league of the early 20th century. He explains the hardships endured and the untold stories of triumph of African American baseball players during the days of segregation. He presents his narrative divided by innings which starts at the beginnings of the Negro league baseball and ends in extra innings with Jackie Robinson who breaks the color barrier to play in white major league baseball. The foreword is written by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron who was America’s home run leader for three decades and grew up in the shadow of segregation and briefly played in the Negro leagues.
Critical Analysis –
In this informational text on Negro league baseball of the early 20th century, Nelson creates a powerful narrative and includes moving oil paintings which combine together to produce an excellent resource for a variety of purposes. He moves very appropriately through the history of the league in innings rather than chapters. Each inning starts off with an interesting and related quote to give the reader a hint of the chapter contents. His narrative is extremely engaging written from the point of view of an omnipotent unnamed narrator who could be any baseball player in the league. This provides an authentic feel making the reader experience being right in the middle of the action. He captures the social and political mood of America during the time of segregation. The reader experiences the full range of emotions from hate toward the players during this tumultuous time in American history to the love of the game the players felt. Nelson captivates the reader with his story.
Just as powerful and emotional are his bold and beautiful oil paintings. His life-like paintings are the perfect illustrative format for this book. Most of the paintings are from an up-close and forward facing perspective. They captivate the reader’s attention and make the reader even more interested in finding out the facts about these players. Perhaps the most memorable illustration starts on page 10. When the reader first turns to this page, a two page layout of a ticket to the first colored World Series appears. Then the pages fold out to make a four page spread of all the players, coaches, and others who were involved in this game. They are standing tall and dignified lined up one next to the other. There sharp distinctive faces are in direct contrast to the blurred view of the fans in the stands. The focus is clearly on those directly involved in the game. This book focuses on the players, who they were, and what they accomplished, and even the illustrations support that center of attention.
Nelson not only creates powerful words and pictures, he also provides the reader with a well documented resource for research. Not only does Nelson supply the history of Negro league baseball, but he also gives the reader an in-depth understanding of how other historical events such as the Great Depression and WWII contributed to this time in American history. This book could be used in a wide variety of ways in social studies class. Nelson also includes other reference aids for researching. He includes two helpful lists; one is a list of Negro leaguers who made it to the major leagues, and the other one is Negro leaguers in the national baseball hall of fame. Additionally, he includes a bibliography, filmography, and endnotes to document his information. And finally, Nelson includes an index of names, teams, cities, and terms, so that the reader can quickly find needed information. This well documented book with a user friendly layout is a touching historical account of a turbulent time in American history. It is a great resource for social studies, and a great choice to encourage the reluctant reader.
Review Excerpts –
School Library Journal – “Social studies teachers and baseball fans of all ages will covet this delightful winner…”
Booklist (starred reviews) – “If the story is the pitch, though, it’s the artwork that blasts the book into the stands.”
Publishers Weekly – “Nelson (Ellington Was Not a Street) delivers a history of the Negro Leagues in a sumptuous volume that no baseball fan should be without.”
- 2009 Coretta Scott King author award and illustrator Honor award.
*Social Studies – use to help explain segregation in early 20th century America.
*Students could research baseball players from Negro league baseball.
*Compare/contrast Nelson’s sports artwork in other books he illustrated such as:
- Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordon in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordon. ISBN 9780689834196.
- A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie Peanut Johnson by Michelle Y. Green. ISBN 9780142400722.
- The Real Slam Dunk. By Charisse K. Richardson. ISBN 9780142402122.
- Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen. ISBN 9780142501412.