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Cover image for We are the ship : the story of Negro League baseball
We are the ship : the story of Negro League baseball
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, c2008.
Physical Description:
88 p. : col. ill. ; 29 x 29 cm.
Reading Level:
900 L Lexile
Using an "Everyman" player as his narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through the decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. Illustrations from oil paintings by artist Kadir Nelson.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 796.357 NEL 1 1
Book J 796.357 NEL 1 1
Book J 796.357 NEL 1 1
Book J 796.357 NEL 1 1
Book J 796.357 NEL 0 1
Book J 796.357 NEL 1 1

On Order



In this New York Times bestselling classic, Caldecott Medal-winning artist Kadir Nelson tells the incredible story of baseball's unsung heroes--perfect for celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Negro Leagues! Winner of the 2009 Coretta Scott King Author Award *Winner of the 2009 Sibert Medal
Featuring nearly fifty iconic oil paintings and a dramatic double-page fold-out, an award-winning narrative, a gorgeous design and rich backmatter, We Are the Ship is a sumptuous, oversize volume for all ages that no baseball fan should be without. Using an inviting first-person voice, Kadir Nelson shares the engaging story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its evolution, until after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947.
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 one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball.

Author Notes

Kadir Nelson began drawing at the age of three, and painting at age ten. He won an art scholarship to study at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with honors, he began his professional career as an artist. He has worked with numerous companies including Dreamworks, where he served as the lead conceptual artist for Amistad and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron; Sports Illustrated; Coca-Cola; The United States Postal Service; and Major League Baseball. In 1999, he started collaborating with several notable authors on a series of picture books including Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen; Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange; and Salt in His Shoes by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan. He won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, a Caldecott Honor and an NAACP Image Award for illustrating Carol Boston Weatherford's Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. He is the author and illustrator of We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Horn Book Review

(Intermediate, Middle School) Imagine listening to baseball legends Willie Mays and Ernie Banks swapping stories about their Negro League days as they sit in the stands, munching on peanuts and watching Ken Griffey Jr. launch a curve ball into the stratosphere. That kind of easygoing, conversational storytelling is exactly what Kadir Nelson achieves in this pitch-perfect history of Negro League baseball. "Seems like we've been playing baseball for a mighty long time. At least as long as we've been free," the narrator says. Nelson's collective "we" honors "the voice of every player," as he explains in an author's note, and it also works to draw readers into and through the text's nine "innings." Nelson's extensive research (including interviews with former players) yields loads of attention-grabbing details: how much money players made; where, when, and how often games took place; who the standout owners, managers, and players were; and so on. And not surprisingly, he often returns to the impact of racism on the leagues, teams, and individual athletes. His grand slam, though, is the art: Nelson's oil paintings have a steely dignity, and his from-the-ground perspectives make the players look larger than life. The book also includes a foreword by Hank Aaron, an Extra Innings section identifying Hall-of-Fame Negro Leaguers, a bibliography, endnotes, and an index. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

The story of the Negro Leagues is told through the reminiscences of an Everyman player, vividly wrought by Graham's smooth tones, perfect pacing, and soft Southern lilt. The history of the Negro Leagues-the exhilaration of the games, the astonishing talent of the athletes, and the rampant racial injustice-is served up through splendid narration with a dollop of blues harmonica that provides just the right musical touch to this 2010 Odyssey Honor title. Standard: Students will be able to describe pre- and post-civil rights movement effects on sports. Learning Activity: This audiobook and a bonus CD with Nelson's remarkable paintings from the print version provide an excellent opportunity for students to hear the text and see the art. A group discussion can follow on how the integration of vocal performance with the artwork enhances the text. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

*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.--Chipman, Ian Copyright 2008 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

NO more tragic or romantic institution emerged from the Jim Crow era of American life than the Negro Leagues. African-Americans were banished from the majors in 1884, and a few seasons later from the minors as well, under a "gentleman's agreement" between white owners and players. None would return until Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers some 60 years later. Black baseball players scrambled to make a living any way they could. In 1920, Rube Foster, star pitcher, manager and owner of the Chicago American Giants, banded eight leading black teams from around the Midwest into the Negro National League, and a legend was born. Over the next 40 years, and through three more segregated major leagues - a second Negro National League, the Eastern Colored League and the Negro American League - African-Americans invented a whole new brand of baseball on the outskirts of town, one that was usually faster, tougher, more merciless than the game played in the white leagues. When black players, led by. the likes of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente, were finally allowed into the white game, the intelligence and ferocity of their play frequently overwhelmed the opposition. "We are the ship; all else the sea" was how Rube Foster described his new league, and Kadir Nelson takes the phrase for the title of his riveting picturebook introduction to the Negro Leagues. It was a ship always on the verge of foundering. Players made little money and barnstormed constantly between league contests, sometimes logging as many as three or four games in a day. They traveled everywhere jammed into well-worn buses or private cars, often arriving in a town after many hours on the road only to find that there was no place, in the segregated America of their time, to get a room, have a meal, use the bathroom. They slept in their uniforms, bought their bats at a store and played in fields that were little more than roped-off cow pastures. Owners operated on a shoestring. A harried Foster was committed to a mental asylum, where he died in 1930; his league collapsed a year later. Players were left with the bitter realization that they would never compete on a bigger stage. And yet, as was the case with many Jim Crow improvisations, African-Americans transformed a white institution into something of their own - something better. Many Negro League teams were owned by blacks; one owner, a hard-edged numbers king by the name of Gus Greenlee, even built his Pittsburgh Crawfords team its own park, in the middle of the Depression. Black managers and players came up with daring new plays and pitches, they performed at dizzying speed, and they regularly beat white teams - perhaps as much as 60 percent of the time - in the postseason exhibitions they put on. 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 bolsters his text with an index and endnotes, for the readers who will be drawn by his work to learn more. There is the occasional gaffe. White ballplayers in the 1940s did not make $7,000 a month - more like $7,000 a season - and he goes too easy on the black owners of the Negro League teams who were also running numbers rackets on the side. Tre, such men had limited opportunities in apartheid America, but they were still gangsters, vultures who preyed upon the desperate hopes of their own communities. Nelson's visual narrative is nothing short of magnificent. His paintings include numerous portraits and action scenes, as well as facsimiles of baseball cards, a ticket to the "First Colored World Series" and a beautifully drawn, melancholy sign for a "colored" inn. Particularly enthralling are his full-page portrayals of a white "House of David" ballplayer (from a religious colony in Michigan) with his trademark beard and long hair; an outfielder in an old park during the last days of the black leagues ; a double-page spread of Foster's American Giants stepping down from a Pullman car; and, especially, an early Negro League game played at night. JAMES STURM and Rich Tommaso's "Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow" offers a different approach to the subject, but it's every bit as engrossing. Both veteran writers and illustrators, Sturm and Tommaso tell the first-person story of a (fictional) black ballplayer who has a heady game against the Birmingham Black Barons in his first weeks of Negro League ball - he doubles off the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige - but then must return to the suffocating, racist world of Tuckwilla, Ala, a small cotton town dominated by an arrogant, white planter family. It's a haunting story in which Sturm's text poignantly conveys the quiet bitterness of his hero, and Tommaso's spare, two-tone drawings brilliantly contrast the physical beauty of the old, rural South with the savagery of its social institutions. An abiding air of menace hangs over the story like a gathering storm cloud. The authors refuse to look away from anything, not even lynching, although the material remains suitable - even vital - for most children. Paige himself is as elusive here as he was in real life, but Sturm and Tommaso, along with an excellent introduction by Gerald Early, provide a telling glimpse of this consummate showman, entrepreneur and competitor, who pitched into his mid60s and against all odds managed to rise above both the black gamp and the white one. "Don't look back; something might be gaining on you," Satch liked to say, but both of these books offer an invaluable look into the treasured and sorrowful past. Kevin Baker is the author of the historical novel "Strivers Row." He is currently working on a history of baseball in New York City.

Kirkus Review

Nelson continues to top himself with each new book. Here, working solo for the first time, he pays tribute to the hardy African-American players of baseball's first century with a reminiscence written in a collective voice--"But you know something? We had many Josh Gibsons in the Negro Leagues. We had many Satchel Paiges. But you never heard about them"--matched to a generous set of full-page painted portraits and stadium views. Generally viewed from low angles, the players seem to tower monumentally, all dark-skinned game faces glowering up from the page and big, gracefully expressive hands dangling from powerful arms. Arranging his narrative into historical "Innings," the author closes with lists of Negro Leaguers who played in the Majors, and who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, plus a detailed working note. Along with being absolutely riveted by the art, readers will come away with a good picture of the Negro Leaguers' distinctive style of play, as well as an idea of how their excellence challenged the racial attitudes of both their sport and their times. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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