More Than A Children’s Book

Updated: April 3, 2008


When is a children’s book

more than a good book

for kids when it is as

good as this book

Award winning children’s author Kadir Nelson has become one more voice lifting the Negro Leagues to another height of recognition with a wonderfully illustrated story of the birth and the reign of this pivotal chapter not only in Sports history but American history.

Here again in this Box we will let

the words of others tell the story

of this book there is no need

for us to compete against them

for example ….

” 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 20th 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. ”

And this from the Los Angeles Times …..

“We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” is, ostensibly, a children’s book. But author-illustrator Kadir Nelson’s text is so engrossing — and his oil paintings so evocative — that the rubric is inadequate. Nelson’s soulful work about this long-neglected brand of our national pastime deserves — nay, demands — an all-ages audience.”

” The title comes from a quote by Negro Leagues founder Rube Foster: “We are the ship; all else the sea.” As it suggests, the Negro Leagues were a self-sufficient, independent enterprise where only the ball was white. Segregated baseball, which began in the 1880s, would endure until the Brooklyn Dodgers’ signing of Jackie Robinson in 1945 (although remnants of the Negro Leagues lasted through 1960).”

” The book’s narrator is an “every player” who sounds an awful lot like Buck O’Neil, the Kansas City Monarchs first baseman whose storytelling skills were the highlight of Ken Burns‘ “Baseball” documentary. This device allows Nelson to chronicle the exploits of the stars ( Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell) and the lesser-known players (Chet Brewer, Martin Dihigo, Turkey Stearnes) in a folksy, tell-it-like-it-was manner.”

” Of Ray Dandridge, the Hall of Fame third baseman, Nelson writes: “We called him ‘Squatty’ because he was so bowlegged. You could drive a train through his legs, but not a baseball.” Beyond celebrating the players’ athletic skills and their dignity in the face of discrimination, Nelson doesn’t shy away from the ugly complexities of segregation. When teams barnstormed through the South, he writes, “We would have to travel several hundred miles without stopping because we couldn’t find a place where we could eat along the way. It’s a hurtful thing when you’re starving and have a pocket full of money but can’t find a place to eat because they ‘don’t serve Negroes.’ ” ” Nelson’s artistry previously earned him Caldecott Honors (for “Henry’s Freedom Box” and “Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom”). In “We Are the Ship,” his luminous portraits and stadium tableaux form the book’s core. These lush, detailed renderings capture the pride — and the pain — that the Negro Leaguers experienced and, in so doing, transform them into real-life heroes. San Diego-based Nelson has written that he spent eight years on this project. His passion and dedication can be found on every page of this creative home run. ”

Hank Aaron himself was moved

by this book to write the Forward

this is what Aaron said …

“When I read these stories and look at the artwork, I am flooded by memories of years past and grateful for Kadir’s fresh approach to the subject.” Children now have a chance to pay homage to heroes with cool names like Cumberland Posey and “Cool Papa” Bell. It’s a one-of-a-kind book, the like of which you have not seen, nor ever will see again. A triumph.”

Let’s repeat that last sentence

from The Great Hank Aaron

” It’s a one-of-a-kind book, the like of which you have not seen, nor ever will see again. A triumph.”

And finally a reader writing at

about this praise worthy book

” Every now and then a writer of children’s books comes along that understands the truth of literature for kids….tell a compelling story with honesty and energy. If Kadir Nelson had only accomplished this “We Are The Ship” would be a great achievement. In actuality, the wonderful writing in this book is just the tip of the iceberg. You could remove every letter of text on every page and this work would still sing! Each painting carries the reader away to a time and a place in a way I’ve never experienced before. You can almost feel the sun on your back and the wind in your hair. Do not make the mistake of thinking this book is just for kids. Its for everyone.”

Call ” We Are The Ship ”

a children’s book if you

like because it is but it

is so much more a book

written for children that

speaks to everyone

Kadir Nelson’s book

merits a place among

best books EVER written

about the Negro Leagues