Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Engrossing Nonfiction ~ We Are the Ship

Premise: We Are The Ship follows Negro League baseball from its inception around 1900 until its end in 1962. Original paintings by the author partner with the text to explore the league's players, owners, fans, detractors, and style of play.

Title: We Are The Ship - The Story of Negro League Baseball
Author: Kadir Nelson
Length: 88 pages
Genre: Nonfiction (history)
Content Appropriate For: Grades 5-8

Three adjectives that describe this book: breathtaking, engaging, inspirational

I chose this book as one of my reads for The Classics Club. Most people wouldn't consider it a classic - it's nonfiction and published in the last 10 years. However, I found it in the list of exemplar texts for 5th graders from the Common Core State Standards. Most texts on this list are established classics (such as Alice in Wonderland), so I was curious about this book I had never heard of. I believe this text has the makings of a modern classic -
We Are The Ship is a comprehensive and very readable work of nonfiction. I learned so much about the Negro Leagues. Before reading this book, I thought of the Negro Leagues with a certain level of shame and pity. How terrible that these men weren't allowed to play in the major leagues. Kadir Nelson honors this injustice without any sugar coating. However, he also celebrates the strength of community, the fun these men had playing baseball together, and the intelligent ways they approached their careers. I came away with a much more nuanced view of the Negro Leagues.

The use of the collective "we" by the narrator was hard for me at first. I kept thinking, "But Nelson wasn't in the Negro Leagues..." Ultimately, though, this approach made the history really come alive. Nelson says in his "Making of Video" that he wanted the tone of the voice to feel as though it were coming straight from the mouth of Buck O'Neil, a great Negro League player who Nelson worked closely with.
Portrait of Buck O'Neil, painted by Kadir Nelson

Sharing the stage equally with the text are the 42 original oil paintings by the author. Kadir Nelson spent 7 years crafting this book and it shows. Even the smallest details are accurate including the number of stitches on the ball and the advertisements on the stadium walls. His website, wearetheship.com, has great information and photos showing the process Nelson used to create these masterpieces.

 Although there were a few places where I got overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, overall We Are The Ship is a really terrific, enlightening, and totally readable piece of history.
4.5 stars

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