Reviews for We Are the Ship : The Story of Negro League Baseball


Booklist Reviews 2008 February #1
*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 comaraderie 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. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2008 February
Remembering larger-than-life heroes of black history

I love the careful, almost photographic style of illustrator (and now writer) Kadir Nelson and was thrilled to hear that he was working on a history of Negro League baseball for young readers. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball was well worth the wait. Everything about this book is beautiful, even the copyright and dedication pages, which are lightly printed with quotations from Negro League greats such as Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neil. In my town, there was a baseball card store where former Negro League players used to sit around and tell stories over coffee, while adoring fans looked on. This book has the feel of a grandfather telling stories from way-back-when, during Jim Crow. And what stories they are! In nine chapters, called innings, of course, the stories flow with the cadence of the spoken word . . . and some of the bravado that often goes along with oral storytelling. "Some of those guys would spike their mother if she were blocking home plate." Can't you picture the old guys nodding their heads in agreement?

Though the stories flow in We Are the Ship, it's the artwork that is absolutely stunning. Nelson frames most of the illustrations from a perspective slightly below the level of the subject, as sports photographers often do. That allows the players to appear larger than life, towering over the reader. With its fascinating details about life as a black person in America, from Jim Crow through the current baseball era, this book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of baseball, African Americans and race. With all the talk of steroids and drugs in baseball this year, Nelson reminds us of another time, a time when players played for the love of the game. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Fall
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. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #3
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. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2007 December #1
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 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Library Media Connection Reviews 2008 February
Through text and artwork that pulses with life, Nelson has created a book that brings personality to the Negro Baseball League. Using the voice of "Everyman" in the league, this book will attract readers because of the full and double-page vibrant, realistic oil paintings, and immerse the reader in the compelling story being told. The author brings out interesting details about the league such as bus trips where players would relieve a sleepy driver and players would entertain their teammates. The reader meets famous players, like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, and the equally talented lesser known players. One enters the world of joy in the game of baseball and the hurt of segregation through stories that take place away from the ballpark as well as on the field. One need not be a baseball fan to enjoy this book, because it's more than a sports story. It's a story of real people enduring more than many of us can imagine, playing a game they love. The book's title comes from "We are the ship; all else is the sea" a quote from Rube Foster, the founder of the Negro National League. Highly Recommended. Nelda Brangwin, Cherry Valley Elementary School, Duvall, Washington © 2008 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 January #1

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.)

[Page 56]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2008 January

Gr 3 Up-- In this attractive, oversized book, Nelson offers an appreciative tribute to the Negro Leagues. Adopting the perspective and voice of an elderly ballplayer, he offers a readable account that is infused with an air of nostalgic oral history: "Seems like we've been playing baseball for a mighty long time. At least as long as we've been free." With African Americans banned from playing in the major leagues, Rube Foster organized the Negro Leagues in 1920 and grandly proclaimed: "We are the ship; all else the sea." From 1920 through the 1940s, they offered African Americans an opportunity to play ball and earn a decent living when opportunities to do so were scarce. Nine chapters offer an overview of the founding and history of the leagues, the players, style of play, and the league's eventual demise after Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947. Nelson's brilliant, almost iconic paintings vividly complement his account. Starting with the impressive cover painting of a proud, determined Josh Gibson, the artist brings to light the character and inherent dignity of his subjects. Hank Aaron, who started his Hall of Fame career in the Negro Leagues, contributes a heartfelt foreword. This work expands on the excellent overview offered in Carole Boston Weatherford's A Negro League Scrapbook (Boyds Mills, 2005). It is an engaging tribute that should resonate with a wide audience and delight baseball fans of all ages.--Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

[Page 145]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2008 April
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.-Lucy Schall Index. Illus. Biblio. Source Notes. 5Q 4P M J S Copyright 2008 Voya Reviews.

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