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We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball Hardcover – January 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 900L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Jump At The Sun; 1 edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786808322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786808328
  • Product Dimensions: 11.5 x 0.5 x 11.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kadir Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor Award recipient. He has received an NAACP Image Award, a CASEY Award, the 2009 and 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the 2009 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award. Among Mr. Nelson's other awards are gold and silver medals from the Society of Illustrators. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and The New Yorker. He lives in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about Kadir Nelson at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Nope. Sorry. Not fair. Kadir Nelson, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you've completely overdrawn your account in the creativity department. I could accept that you are one of the greatest living illustrators making his way today. I didn't even mind how young and talented you were. That was fine. But dude, did I actually have to learn that you were a remarkable writer as well? Now wait just one darn tooting minute here, buster. How fair is it that most of us schlubs can't drawn more than a stick figure or write more than a tortured haiku while you proceed to write AND illustrate what I'm going to have to call one of the greatest children's books of 2008? Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know how he has done it, but illustrator and first-time author Kadir Nelson brings us a baseball book that will make fans out the least sports-enthused children out there. Lush pictures, great text, and startling facts bring the story of Negro League baseball to life like never before.

Rube Foster was the founder of the Negro National League. Said he of his men, "We are the ship: all else the sea." All long as there has been baseball in America there have been African-American ballplayers. Men like Sol White and Bud Fowler. Before Rube Foster, however, there was no organized professional league. Then, on February 20, 1920, Rube called together owners of black baseball teams, like himself, and the Negro National League began. Through the collective voice of the players, we hear about these years and these men who played together. We hear about amazing plays, crazy rules, outright characters, and the greats. We hear about the hardships of being a player, including the low pay and the dangers of playing in the South.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on January 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Every now and then a writer of children's books comes along that understands the truth of literature for kids....tell a compelling story with honesty and energy. If Kadir Nelson had only accomplished this "We Are The Ship" would be a great achievement. In actuality, the wonderful writing in this book is just the tip of the iceberg. You could remove every letter of text on every page and this work would still sing! Each painting carries the reader away to a time and a place in a way I've never experienced before. You can almost feel the sun on your back and the wind in your hair. Do not make the mistake of thinking this book is just for kids. Its for everyone.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Frank Murphy on January 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If a book will ever have a chance to win both a Newbery and a Caldecott - this is it! It better win at least one. A Coretta Scott King award is a slam dunk. Kadir Nelson is brilliant - as illustrator and writer. The early illustration of Jackie Robinson sliding home as a KC Monarch is just one of the opuses in the most unforgettable museum of illuminating art in a book! Bravo!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By timothy mullane on March 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a marvelous book with literate text and outstanding art (I want a print of every illustration!) As a dyed in the wool baseball fan, I thought I was pretty aware of the Negro League - learned so much from this book - don't be mislead by the children's category - every adult I know who has seen it has bought it for themselves. I have this compulsion to stop perfect strangers on the street to tell them to read this.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Donald Yost on June 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is set in the time between the formation of the Negro League by Rube Foster in the 1920's and Jackie Robinson's cross over to the majors in 1947. This was the era of the Negro League's time of greatest activity and fame.
Black baseball had its own superstars. These included Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and the great Satchel Paige. This was a period when Negro players frequently couldn't find hotels that would let them stay overnight or restaurants that would serve them. Frequently, they spent nights sleeping in their buses or in tents beside the road.
Not only is this book an intriguing account of Negro League Baseball, but Kadir Nelson's illustrative paintings are outstanding works of art.
The bind black players were caught in is illustrated by baseball's great white pitcher Walter Johnson's comment about the talented catcher Josh Gibson, "He can do everything. He hits the ball a mile. And he catches so easy he might as well be in a rocking chair....too bad this Gibson is a colored fellow." Gibson was so good that some people said Babe Ruth should have been called "the white Josh Gibson."
Nelson portrays the "triumphs and defeats on and off the field," as well as adding intriguing facts. Did you know that Satchel Paige had a wonderful singing voice? That Oscar Charleston was such a mean son-of-a-gun that he once snatched the hood off a Ku Klux Klansman? Or that Louis Armstrong owned the "Secret Nine" ball club and that Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was part-owner of the New York Black Yankees?
An especially moving part of this book deals with the exhibition and barnstorming games members of the Negro League played against white major leaguers: "I guess we beat those major leaguers as often as we did because we could out-think them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on May 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard an interview with the author on the radio a few months ago and kind of tucked this book into the back of my mind as possibly interesting. Then when I ran across it in the bookstore I had to buy it. Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball in a wonderful way that highlights both the joys the players had in playing as well as the challenges they faced - everything from lumpy ballparks and crowded team buses to the difficulties imposed by segregation and prejudice. He tells it from the "we" perspective that gives it an atmosphere of a voice speaking from the past but also makes it sound personal. He introduces us to many of the greats, men who would have been stars in any league, like Satchel Paige, "Cool Papa" Bell, "Judy" Johnson, Josh Gibson - the "black Babe Ruth" (or was Babe the "white Josh Gibson?") - and many, many others. He includes information on those who made the Negro League possible, like Rube Foster, and some of the team owners. I also thought numbering the chapters as Innings (with "Extra Innings" for the final chapter) was a clever touch.

But the text alone isn't what makes this book so great. The artwork is stunning in this oversize book, and hardly a page goes by that doesn't have a full page painting (including one fold-out). Some are simple poses of the men on the field and a few show them getting off trains or riding on the bus, but my favorites are the ones that show the action of the game. Several would be good enough to hang on the wall (as reprints, of course, not cut from the book). It has a look and style of the old depression-era artwork that was used in murals and public places.

My little-league son and I have been reading the book and have both learned a lot.
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