From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 3 Up—A lost piece of American history comes to life in Kadir Nelson's elegant and eloquent history (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2008) of the Negro Leagues and its gifted baseball players. 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. The narrative is divided into nine innings, beginning with Rube Foster and his formation of the first Negro League in 1920 and closing with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier into white major league baseball. In between are fascinating snippets of the events and men who formed the Negro Leagues. Listeners glimpse the pain black Americans endured because of bigotry and segregation, but the true center of this story is the joy of baseball and the joy men felt at being able to play the game. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who began playing with the Negro Leagues, provides the foreword. Eloquent narration is performed by actor Dion Graham, and a bluesy guitar introduction and conclusion is reminiscent of the time period. Nelson's stunning oil paintings are included on a CD—but make sure to have the book available as well. Social studies teachers and baseball fans of all ages will covet this delightful winner of the 2009 Coretta Scott King author award and illustrator Honor award.—Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK
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*Starred Review* Award-winning illustrator and first-time author Nelson’s history of the Negro Leagues, told from the vantage point of an unnamed narrator, reads like an old-timer regaling his grandchildren with tales of baseball greats Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and others who forged the path toward breaking the race barrier before Jackie Robinson made his historic debut. 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. With enormous blue skies and jam-packed grandstands backing them, these players look like the giants they are. The stories and artwork are a tribute to the spirit of the Negro Leaguers, who were much more than also-rans and deserve a more prominent place on baseball’s history shelves. For students and fans (and those even older than the suggested grade level), this is the book to accomplish just that. Grades 5-8. --Ian Chipman