Wednesday, October 29, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Informational Books: We are the Ship by Kadir Nelson

Nelson, Kadir.  We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.  New York: Hyperion Books, 2008.  ISBN 0786808322.

In the late turn of the 20th century, racial segregation was still prevalent in the United States. In order to play professional baseball, African American athletes formed their own teams and leagues.  With the help of Rube Foster, the Negro National League was formed. By playing harder and more difficult games, these players honed their skills as ball players and went on to entertain people across America and Cuba.  They barnstormed major teams, played winter ball in other countries, and even formed their own World Series.  Their drive to be the best at the sport they loved put players like Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson in the spot-light to break the color line and re-open Major League Baseball to African American players.


The history of Negro League Baseball is not a pretty one, but it is one that deserves to be told.  Kadir Nelson uses his narrative as if a player is walking you straight through the hardships to the Major Leagues.  From being run out of major clubs and even towns through forming their own teams, leagues, and even World Series, Nelson’s narrator radiates hope and a dogged perseverance displayed by so many of the players he talks about.  The story is heart-breaking, but has a happy ending.  However, it’s the paintings included in the book that keep you turning the pages.  Each is lovingly brushed and at times it seems like the players themselves are looking right at the reader as you share in their little victories.  The two page spread of the first Negro World Series is carefully recreated right down to the names, giving a vitality to the players and coaches.  Nelson provides careful research while still adding in some of the feelings that must have gone through each of the players when only a select few of the players made it into the farm teams and major leagues of baseball.  He even includes a passage on why he chose to narrate the book through a first person rather than just give the facts of the story, which helps this to read more like listening to your grandfather’s tales than a history lesson.

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – "The history of the Leagues echoes the social and political struggles of black America during the first half of the 20th century. There were scores of ballplayers who never became as famous as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and were almost lost in obscurity because of segregation—and Nelson recreates their history here."
From BOOKLIST -- "The narrative showcases the pride and comradery of the Negro Leagues, celebrates triumphing on one’s own terms and embracing adversity, even as it clearly shows the “us” and “them” mentality bred by segregation. If the story is the pitch, though, it’s the artwork that blasts the book into the stands. Nelson often works from a straight-on vantage point, as if the players took time out of the action to peer at the viewer from history, eyes leveled and challenging, before turning back to the field of play."

Gather other books that discuss the history of baseball such as:
     Kahn, Roger. THE BOYS OF SUMMER.  ISBN 0060883960.

Gather other Kadir Nelson books to read such as:
     NELSON MANDELA.  ISBN 0061783749.

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