Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Kadir Nelson
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 12 and up
Hyperion, 2008   ISBN: 978-0786808328

Many people are familiar with the story of Jackie Robinson, the first man of color who was allowed to play with the baseball majors. What many people do not know is that Jackie Robinson played in the Negro Leagues before he began his life in the spotlight. The Negro Leagues made it possible for hundreds of skilled black baseball players to play competitive baseball for a living. For most it was not much of a living but how many people get paid to do what they love to do? Even if the pay was low, it was better than nothing.

Low pay was not the only difficulty that these players faced. They also had to play far more games than their white counterparts and since very few black teams had a ball field to call their own, the black players had a travel a great deal. This created other problems, because when they were on the road they often could not find a place to stay or a place to eat. Many hotels and restaurants, especially in the south, refused to serve people of color. The players in the Negro Leagues had to get food where they could and sleep in the few places that would accept them. If white people came to see them play it was not uncommon for these people to swear at, and throw things at, the black players in the field. This was a great indignity which the Negro League players had to bear and live with every single day.

Some of the players faced these injustices by being very serious both on and off the field. Others behaved liked clowns, goofing off for their own amusement and for the amusement of the audiences. One thing that they all had in common was that they loved baseball and they were good at what they did. Some players were especially good and would have had fantastic careers if the major leagues had given them a chance. Fifty or so players did end up getting accepted by major league teams after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. His courage, fortitude, and self control paved the way for his fellow black players and for that alone he deserves the respect of every baseball fan.

In this marvelous book Kadir Nelson debuts as a writer and shows his readers that he is not just a gifted artist, but he also has the power to wield words in a magical way. Told from the point of view of one the Negro League players in the vernacular of the times, the narrative is poignant, very personal, sometimes funny, and always enlightening. Using the "we" in his account helps his readers really come to understand what it was like to be a player in the Negro Leagues. We come to see that though there were many hardships to be bourn, their also were many joys to be shared.