We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

( 16 )


"We are the ship; all else the sea."-Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League

The story of Negro League baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who ...

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"We are the ship; all else the sea."-Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League

The story of Negro League baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball.

Using an "Everyman" player as his narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. The voice is so authentic, you will feel as if you are sitting on dusty bleachers listening intently to the memories of a man who has known the great ballplayers of that time and shared their experiences. But what makes this book so outstanding are the dozens of full-page and double-page oil paintings-breathtaking in their perspectives, rich in emotion, and created with understanding and affection for these lost heroes of our national game.

We Are the Ship is a tour de force for baseball lovers of all ages.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Jackie Robinson first broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947, but before him, hundreds of talented Negro League players prepared the way. This illustrated children's book tells the story of black baseball through the experiences of an average player. We Are the Ship doesn't present idealized snapshots of these barnstorming pioneers; author/illustrator Kadir Nelson offers vivid images of segregation, prejudice, economic hardship, and exhausting travel conditions. An unforgettable story that we should never forget.
Karen MacPherson
Divided into chapters labeled "innings," Nelson's inspiring book is a riveting read that is sure to be a home run with both kids and adults.
—The Washington Post
Kevin Baker
The painter Kadir Nelson has illustrated several award-winning children's books, including some on black history. This is the first book he has both illustrated and written, and it's absolutely gorgeous. He uses the conversational, first-person voice of a fictional, anonymous player. It's a device that generally works well and allows him to include many of the great old tales of the Negro Leagues; he conveys the humor, showmanship and joy that were an integral part of the game, without soft-soaping how hard it all was…Nelson's visual narrative is nothing short of magnificent.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In his first outing as author as well as illustrator, Nelson (Ellington Was Not a Street) delivers a history of the Negro Leagues in a sumptuous volume that no baseball fan should be without. Using a folksy vernacular, a fictional player gives an insider account of segregated baseball, explaining the aggressive style of play ("Those fellows would bunt and run you to death. Drove pitchers crazy!") and recalling favorite players. Of Satchel Paige, he says, "Even his slow stuff was fast." As illuminating as the text is, Nelson's muscular paintings serve as the true draw. His larger-than-life players have oversized hands, elongated bodies and near-impossible athleticism. Their lined faces suggest the seriousness with which they took their sport and the circumstances under which they were made to play it. A gatefold depicting the first "Colored World Series" is particularly exquisite-a replica ticket opens from the gutter to reveal the entire line-ups of both teams. And while this large, square book (just a shade smaller than a regulation-size base) succeeds as coffee-table art, it soars as a tribute to the individuals, like the legendary Josh Gibson, who was ultimately elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame without ever playing in the major leagues. As Nelson's narrator says, "We had many Josh Gibsons in the Negro Leagues.... But you never heard about them. It's a shame the world didn't get to see them play." Ages 8-up. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 18.

Gorgeous, larger-than-life oil paintings and a Negro League composite narrator, who reflects on the players' second-class-citizen lives filled with wit, melancholy, and determination, bring a historic battle against prejudice to life. Nine chapters ("innings") with a forward by Hank Aaron, explain baseball's beginnings and eventual unspoken segregation, the Negro League's founding, its struggling life, and the final success that destroys them. Player, manager, and owner stories, the best part of the narrative, include anecdotes about Rube Foster's genius; the knife-wielding umpire, Bullet Rogan; owner/racketeer Gus Greenlee, who reorganized the Negro National League after Foster's demise; the powerful Josh Gibson and George "Mule" Suttles; the legendary and flashy Satchel Paige; and Jackie Robinson, the athlete/diplomat who makes people acknowledge the skill and power of black players and consequently fulfills the original mission of the Negro Leagues. The powerful pictures bring the players right off the pages, including a six-panel fold out of the "First Colored World Series" teams, and will pull readers of all ages back to the book repeatedly. As recreational nonfiction for the very young or nonreader and a motivating start for the advanced reader wanting to learn more, the book is a captivating centerpiece for multiple age and culture displays. Although it provides accessible background for fiction such as Nancy L. M. Russell's So Long, Jackie Robinson (Key Porter Books, 2007/VOYA December 2007) and The Journal of Biddy Owens by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 2001/VOYA August 2001), it will draw attention from more than baseball fans. Reviewer: Lucy Schall
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Nelson's magnificent paintings of the Negro League baseball players remind me of the saying, "Heroes are larger than life." The perspective he employs gives these men the stature they deserve. Each turn of the page provides a visual treat for the reader, whether it is a portrait of a player, or an action shot such as that of Jackie Robinson stealing home. A ticket to the "First Colored World Series" on October 11, 1924, opens as a gatefold, showing the players lined up on the field with their names listed below. The "collective we" of the first person text makes the reader feel as if an old-time ballplayer were speaking directly to him. Nelson begins with the establishment of Negro League Baseball and follows it to the end, entitling his chapters "1st Inning" through "9th Inning." Each chapter presents players, teams, locations, owners, discrimination faced by the teams, and how the Negro League players' style of play changed the game of baseball. The last chapter, "Extra Innings," explains why the Negro Leagues ended, and its importance in baseball and American history. There is a great deal of information in the back matter, such as the names of the Negro Leaguers who made it into the Major Leagues and those who are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. An index, a bibliography, and source notes are also included. In his author's note, Nelson says, "this eight-year journey from the book's beginning to completion has been a rewarding experience." Likewise for those who read—and reread—this book. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal

Gr 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

The Barnes & Noble Review
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 way the heat came up through the soles of the players' shoes in Latin America. Each painting is gorgeous and detailed: the ads on the outfield fences 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. --Mark J. Miller
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786808328
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Publication date: 1/8/2008
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 59,775
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 900L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 11.30 (w) x 11.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Kadir Nelson's paintings have been exhibited in many galleries and museums around the world, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Museum of Tolerance, and the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in Los Angeles; the Museum of African American History in Detroit; the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington D.C.; and the Society of Illustrators and the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, as well as many others.

Nelson is the illustrator of many books for children. Among the best known are Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, an NAACP Image Award winner, a Caldecott Honor Book, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner; Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner; Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee; and Will Smith's Just the Two of Us, also an NAACP Image Award winner. We Are the Ship is the first book Nelson has written and illustrated.

Kadir Nelson lives with his family in California. Visit his Web site, www.kadirnelson.com.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    We Are the Ship

    Nelson, K. (2008). We Are the Ship: The story of the negro league baseball. New York: Jump at the Sun.


    We Are the Ship uses a unique voice to share the experiences of African Americans who were unofficially not allowed to participate in the white baseball leagues and instead set out and formed their own league. This award-winning book has been honored not only for the information it shares but also for the paintings that are featured throughout the book. Many interesting facts are also included. My favorite chapter, or inning as they're called in this book, is the second inning, "A Different Brand of Baseball." Which shares many of the quirky happenings that separated the negro league from others and made the games especially interesting.-one player caught balls while resting in a rocking chair, another would pretend to read the newspaper. You get the idea.

    This unusual fully-illustrated information book, includes a unique narrative voice that asserts having experienced the negro baseball leagues of the first part of the twentieth century. It also assumes blackness on the part of the reader and draws comparisons between then and now when it comes to the way baseball is played.

    A cross between a picture and chapter book, this book may especially appeal to reluctant readers who love baseball. If the student declares him or herself "too old for picturebooks" a teacher could reinforce the fact that there are many interesting sports facts they won't be able to find anywhere else.

    While this book may be intended for boys, I still think the lack of women described is worthy of complaint. (It does manage to incorporate information about some of the central American leagues, but is completely silent about women players). The only woman mentioned at all is Effa Manley who owned the Newark Eagles with her husband. There were, however, a few mentions of women in general:

    1. "Women have always loved ballplayers, you know" (p. 34).

    2. "Latin women sure were pleasing to the eye" (p. 53).

    3. In bigger cities "ladies' night" games would include beauty or swimsuit contests (p. 66).

    What about the women who were married to the league members? The mothers? Daughters? Were they not worthy of a mention? Ever?

    As a woman who has yet to love a baseball player, know any woman who has loved a baseball player (historically or presently) and who enjoys being a sex object more than ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD (it's why I get up in the morning, dress professionally and conservatively and then go off and teach children's literature), I'm vaguely offended by all of this. The narrator, who consistently speaks of 'us' and 'we' in the voice of an old school black ballplayer, apparently meant 'not women' and 'not me' in that 'us'. As if women haven't already been excluded from enough sports conversations and leagues historically. You kinda dropped the ball there, Kadir Nelson.

    Rant over, I promise.

    Activities to do with the book:

    This information book could be used to flesh out a lesson about the history of sports or a lesson about segregation, structural and personal. The story could be used as an example of writing that has a strong voice and could be a model for students to create their own writing voices and narrators.

    For more of my reviews, visit sjkessel.blogspot.com.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    Awesome History of the Negro Baseball League

    I purchased this book for my brother-in-law. He has greatly enjoyed it. The fact that is is written as a narrrative make it an enjoyable experience of the history of the sport. Kadir Nelson is truely a great illustrator!

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  • Posted November 28, 2012

    At first, I wasn't too excited to read about baseball, but

    At first, I wasn't too excited to read about baseball, but after the first few pages, it hooked me. The book was filled with interesting facts and tons of great pictures to go along with the chapters. I like how the book was put together, each chapter named after an inning in the game. Even though this was a different culture than mine, they also talked about the Latin American ballplayers and how they too had an effect on the negro baseball league. This book taught me a lot of new things in a fun and interesting way. I'd say it'd be a must read for any baseball fan out there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2011

    We Are Ship= Fantastic Book!

    Negroes had many troubles that they had to deal with. One of the troubles was trying to be heard in the major leagues for baseball. This book explains the troubles that these very talented boys had to go through to get where they are today. I love how this book explains stories; it felt like your grandpa was just sitting down talking to you about the "good ol' days". I loved reading about how they just worked hard for their passion, even if it was leaving their home for months to play in Puerto Rico. This book explains what it was like to actually try your hardest to chase your dream. The illustrations were very colorful and eye-catching also; they made when want to keep on turning the page to see what picture would be next. When I first picked up this book I didn't know how I would like it but now that I have read it, it makes me appreciate the history of baseball a little more. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did! Mar3305

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  • Posted November 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A baseball great

    This 2009 Orbis book winner is a book that must be added to every collection. It describes a part of American history in an entertaining way. There were many instances when I caught myself laughing as I read. Kadir Nelson's writing almost talks to the readers because his technique is liken to an elderly man reminiscing about the days gone past. I imagined myself sitting on the bleachers in an empty baseball field listening to this man tell me about how life was, and how much it has changed. Nelson's artistic illustrations are portraits of all the African American men who took in the Negro baseballs leagues. The pictures are beautiful on context and color. We are the Ship is an integral part of history that changed not only the way the game was played, but how African Americans made those changes. --FTD

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Negro League-Up Close and Colorful

    Kadir Nelson, through interviews with some of the Negro League greats, has put together a wonderful book about the Negro Leagues. It tells the story of many of the players, some of whom went on to stardom in the Major Leagues. It tells of the prejudice exhibited to many of the players by whites, while at the same time they crowded the stadiums to watch them play. It also tells of some comraderie between white and black players.

    For anyone interested in baseball, Majors, Minors, Negro League, etc, this is a must read. The history of baseball is incomplete without understanding the Negro League.

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  • Posted October 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Game.

    *Beautiful, detailed illustrations in this book will draw the reader in.**Wonderful, rich history of the baseball leagues for the young to enjoy.**Inspiring life experiences to learn about the "greats" of baseball's past. If you like this book, We Are The Ship, then consider, Black Diamonds: Life in the Negro Leagues from the Men Who Lived It by John B. Holway as well as Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues by Patricia C. McKissack; these two books maybe of interest to you also. Favorable review for this book: fun, educational, informative, and inspiring reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2009


    In the book "We are the ship" it gives many very informative experiences of old African American baseball players who played in the Negro Leagues. Throughout this book it gives a first hand perspective of what the players of that time had to go through just to do something they loved. The book also informs the read of many different ways that the Negro Leagues impacted the Major Leagues, from equipment to styles of playing. Being a fan of baseball I found this book a great read and very educational about baseball history.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    Not Just for Kids

    Beautifully written and illustrated history of the Negro baseball leagues. A great sports story that also says much about racism and the USA. Kids love it, but I learned a lot from it, also. Recommended by my son who is a copious reader and teaches 4th grade GT students -- he keeps tabs on what grabs the kids and is also of excellent quality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    great book

    The pictures are amazing, and relate well to the story line. Fabulous book no matter what the age

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  • Posted March 11, 2009


    As a collector of over 1,000 Baseball books, I must say this book is
    the "jewel" of the collection. The illustrations of Kadir Nelson and
    (for the first time) and his writing is superb.

    I've have given this book to many of my friends.

    Al Lackner

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  • Posted February 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing book !

    I bought this for a gift for a young father who loves baseball to share with his son. the illustrations are Kadir Nelson at his best. The story is so moving and with the illustrations this is the most beautiful book.<BR/>I highly recommend this for gift giving and for your own library too!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2009

    Awesome pictures, awful writing!

    The pictures are really wonderful. There are a few issues with the artwork. The latino section, page 54, has a partial page illustration. That may leave some latinos under-impressed. Most of the artwork does not match the text on the oppposite page. It would have been better to use more than one person in the illustration pages to better fit the text. Mr. Nelson decided to place the names of the players in the illustrations on the text page, instead of on the actual illustration page. That could be confusing to some people. There are way too many run on sentences and incomplete phrases throughout the book. Remember when we learned to write in school, "Do not begin sentences with 'and' or 'but'!" Many of the concepts, due to the informal language useage, are not clearly explained for most of the children today. It would have benefitted significantly from vocabulary definitions of all of the colloquial language used. Alternatively, more common word usage would have been much better. This book should have been aimed at all people, regardless of age, and not a select few. There are no good explanations or references regarding all of the famous performers who attended the games. Few children today know who these people are, were or why they were important at the time. There are way too many words for younger children to comprehend without extensive explanation by an adult. This picture book design is great for the artwork alone. Do not buy it for the writing. You would have to carefully read and rewrite or paraphrase if sharing with younger children. There is a small bibliography, unattractive endnotes pages, and a fair index included. There are no websites suggested, which is unfortunate for today's world. It is also unfortunate that this book was nominated for a Texas Bluebonnet Award. The writing is difficult for the targeted age group, grades 3-6. Artwork alone is not enough for this book to win.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 9, 2012

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    Posted February 17, 2009

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    Posted November 9, 2009

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