We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Words and Paintings by: Kadir Nelson
Recommended Ages: 8 and up
Sitting down to write about We are the Ship, I am struck by the fact that I may not be able to do this book the justice it rightfully deserves. It is a big, beautiful tome that lovers of the game of baseball should add to their collection. It's an important book that captures the history of the Negro League, and leaves you wanting more. Our family owns Ken Burn's 18-hour documentary on baseball, and while I have seen it in its entirety twice, I am going to watch the section on the Negro Leagues again, just because it's such an important chapter in the history of America's game. Nelson has added his unique voice to the mix.
We are the Ship tells the story of the Negro Leagues' inception in the 1920's, through its end when Jackie Robinson went over to the Majors in 1947. It has a foreword by Hank Aaron, which serves as a reminder that it really wasn't that long ago that black players weren't allowed to play in the Majors. While many of us remember when Aaron finally broke Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974, we may not know that he started off in the Negro Leagues playing for the Indianapolis Clowns. Aaron gives a moving tribute to the men in the Negro Leagues who paved the way for him and others.
We are the Ship is divided into nine innings (chapters) and is written in a breezy, narrative voice that begs to be read out loud. It's full of facts and personalities that leap out of the page at you. The first inning tells the story of Andrew "Rube" Foster who is credited with organizing the many Negro baseball teams that were already playing, into one league. He was determined to create a league that would be as good as, or better, than the Majors "so that when it came time to integrate professional baseball, Negroes would be ready." This was in the beginning of the 1920's.
Each chapter goes on like this, introducing us to the men who made up this amazing league. Yes, there are stories about players you have heard of (Satchel Page, Josh Gibson and Buck O'Neil), but there were so many more players that fill the pages of this book. The way they barnstormed around the country in old buses, showing up in small towns and playing in pastures, all for the love of the game.
Now a word about the pictures. This is the part where I'm not sure I can adequately convey the absolute beauty of the artwork. Nelson has managed to capture both the time and personalities of the period, in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. What Nelson manages to do with his book is sweep you back into history so that you are right there with the players. You feel their hardships, the segregation and bigotry that surrounded them, and most of all their love for the game. It is his tribute to these outstanding men who played baseball their way, and it works. While this is children's book, I believe it's a book for anyone who has a love of baseball.
BookNosher Tidbit: We are the Ship was named the 2009 Coretta Scott King Book Award Recipient. I also discovered that there is a traveling exhibit of the 33 paintings and 13 sketches. Click here for more information.