We Are the Ship:The Story of Negro League Baseball

By KADIR NELSON

When Rube Foster founded the Negro National League in 1920, he told his colleagues, “We are the ship; all else the sea.” You’ll want to jump on that boat if Kadir Nelson is at the helm. He has illustrated award winners such as Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led the People to Freedom and Ellington Was Not a Street, but this is his first time out as both the illustrator and writer, and he proves to be a serious double threat. He tells the story of the rise and fall of baseball’s Negro Leagues through the eyes of an everyday ballplayer who just happens to be witnessing history. The text has a casual naturalness that makes you feel like you’re sharing a bag of peanuts with a former player while he spills his old stories. Nelson breaks the book into nine innings, each covering a topic relevant to the Negro Leagues, such as the owners, the barnstorming games against top-flight white teams, and the process that culminated with Jackie Robinson becoming the first black man to play in the majors in the modern era. Each section is packed with personalities and endless facts: Satchel Paige’s pitching habits; sleeping arrangements on the road; the methods of paying the players; the heat coming up through the soles of the players’ shoes in Latin America. Each painting is gorgeous and detailed: the center field ads pop, the action feels alive. Supposedly a book for kids, We Are the Ship is a must-read for all baseball fans. It is, by turns, heartbreaking, inspiring, comforting, unifying, and, ultimately, extremely satisfying. -

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