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We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson

Ever since I read Moses and Henry's Freedom Box, I've been excited about Kadir Nelson's artwork. And ever since I attended the SCBWI conference in LA, I've been looking forward to getting my hands on Kadir Nelson's first solo book project, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, ("words and paintings by Kadir Nelson"). The book takes its title from the motto of the Negro National League, taken from a quote from Rube Foster, the League's founder: "We are the ship; all else the sea."

From the cover art to the rich brown endpapers to the forward by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to Nelson's folksy narration of the text to the glorious paintings inside the book (including one amazing double fold-out spread showing the complete lineup for the first Colored World Series), to the author's note to the bibliography to the index, this book is a gem. Nelson organized the book into nine innings. The only thing this book is lacking is (and I hate to be picky, but here it is): a Table of Contents.
Just so you get an idea how the book is organized and what the scope is, here's what the Table of Contents would look like:

Foreword by Hank Aaron
p. 1 1st inning: Beginnings
p. 17 2nd inning: A Different Brand of Baseball: Negro League Game Play
p. 23 3rd inning: Life in the Negro Leagues
p. 31 4th inning: Racket Ball: Negro League Owners
p. 41 5th inning: The Greatest Baseball Players in the World: Negro League All-Stars
p. 53 6th inning: Latin America: Baseball in Paradise
p. 57 7th inning: Good Exhibition: The Negro Leagues vs. the White Leagues
p. 63 8th inning: Wartime Heroes: World War II and the Negro League All-Star Game
p. 69 9th inning: Then Came Jackie Robinson
p. 77 Extra innings: The End of the Negro Leagues
p. 79 Negro Leaguers Who Made it to the Major Leagues
p. 79 Negro Leaguers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame
p. 80 Author's Note
p. 81 Acknowledgements
p. 82 Bibliography & Filmography
p. 83 Endnotes
p. 86 Index

This book is a must-have for (1) all libraries, (2) all baseball fans, (3) folks interested in the development of the Civil Rights movement and (4) all Kadir Nelson fans. That's a lot of categories, but it's true.

We Are The Ship explains what the Negro Leagues were, and what it felt like to be a part of them, including being the brunt of name-calling and being subjected to the thousand cuts of segregation (not all of them being small cuts, by the way). The narrator's matter-of-fact tone and folksy stories is a pleasant companion throughout the text. He tells how the business of the leagues was conducted is examined. He talks about the heroes of the league (many of them in the 5th inning, which features breathtaking pictures). Throughout, the narrator's voice sounds very much like an old Negro League player talking about people he actually knew, good points, bad points, and all.

As I alluded to earlier, Nelson really payed attention to the details, and a reader of this book will not only learn facts, but will, to an extent, "feel" what it was like to be a player in the Negro Leagues (both the good and bad aspects), in the same way that Russell Freedman's marvelous "The Voice that Challenged a Nation" brought home what segregation and racism felt like for Marian Anderson (at least in part).

If you'd like a look inside the book, Kadir Nelson offers one on his site (it's where I took these images from). But if you're a librarian or a baseball fan or someone who, like me, has a bit of a crush on Kadir Nelson, then you need to BUY THIS BOOK. Now. Before it wins awards next year. Because it's going to win them.

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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC)
Great art! Cool website!

Jan. 21st, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
His artwork is breathtaking, in my humble opinion. I wish that you could see the picture of Wilber "Bullet" Rogan, on page 38, or the two-page spread of Josh Gibson on deck as he watches Satchel Paige pitch to Buck Leonard (pp. 44-45) or Raleigh "Biz" Mackey on p. 46 or the infielder from the House of David team on p. 59 (from a religious colony, probably Jewish). Or, to be honest, each and every person there. And then, I wish I could take you back in time with me to hear Kadir's speech in LA. He was so impassioned and amazing.
Jan. 21st, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
I wish.....
believe me, you just about did ALL those things!
Jan. 21st, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
I want it!

I don't know what Kadir looks like but his pictures are yummy.
Jan. 21st, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
You will seriously adore this book. It is the sort of nonfiction book that will appeal to kids and adults as well, although it's written for kids.
Jan. 21st, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
What an artist! It's a beautiful, beautiful book! :-)
Jan. 22nd, 2008 01:22 am (UTC)
It really is, and the way he presents the information is very well-organized and well-thought-out.
Jan. 22nd, 2008 12:00 am (UTC)
Absolutely stunning book! Great post, Kelly!

Wasn't his presentation at SCBWI-LA wonderful? The title was...
WORDS AND PAINTINGS... whoa, a man after my heart!

I checked and I didn't take any notes. I must have been totally swept away. I vaguely remember that he showed some paintings that inspired him... does that sound familiar?
Jan. 22nd, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)
He talked about how he knew he was an artist since he was a child, and that his father called his drawing supplies "toys" and he was upset, because they weren't toys. And then he talked about being a teen, and how he drew all these elongated human figures. And then he progressed through some of his other phases, and he showed some of his published work, and then he showed some of the spreads from this book and talked about how different it was him for him to be doing the text as well as the art.

And he was articulate and inspiring and handsome, and totally swoon-worthy on all counts: art, inspiration, intelligence, etc.
Jan. 22nd, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
kadir nelson
The book looks amazing, Kelly. Thanks for showcasing it so well! And yes, I agree that Kadir Nelson's presentation was a higlight of the LA Conference. He has such a graceful and poised presence.
Jan. 22nd, 2008 01:25 am (UTC)
Re: kadir nelson
I still remember being blown away at his integrity, and at how, even at a young age, he considered himself an artist. It was inspirational and vaguely humbling somehow.
Jan. 22nd, 2008 03:51 am (UTC)
And can we just talk about the title that is such a gorgeous metaphor??? And rolls of the tongue. And, and...
I can't write a title to save my life...
Jan. 22nd, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
His title is taken from the National Negro League slogan, which was pure poetry "We are the ship; all else the sea."
Jan. 22nd, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
I know. That just makes me SWOON!
Jan. 22nd, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
I saw this book at Barnes & Noble over the weekend. I curled up in a corner and read as much as I could (while my daugter nibbled and sipped in the cafe with the few spare dollars I had on me).

But the book is absolutely gorgeous. Kadir Nelson made a statement with this one: I am here. Amazing book.

Jan. 22nd, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
It is really a wonderful text, isn't it?
Jan. 22nd, 2008 02:10 pm (UTC)
I can't believe I actually beat you in some small thing, Kelly! Allow me to do a snoopy dance here. Okay, I'm over it. I've loved Kadir Nelson's artwork since I started actively browsing PBs again, when my oldest was born. I used to check them out of the library, just based on the gorgeousness of the covers. I know it's probably considered a "celebrity" book in a way (as a number of his are), but I do love Salt In His Shoes. The depictions of Michael Jordan's family all crowding around him . . . well, they just make me happy.
Jan. 22nd, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
He's done a bunch of celebrity books, actually, including one for Spike Lee and one for Debbie Allen (if memory serves). You'll love him even more when you get to hear him speak!
Jan. 22nd, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
Ooh, ooh. Thanks. I'm going to go right now and request this from my library. I love Nelson's art work. So does Eisha. Shoot, 7-Imp adores him. Thanks for this!

Jules, 7-Imp
Jan. 22nd, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
You are going to love-love-love it, Jules. Eisha will too, I'm thinking.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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