It’s been over 40 years since the last remnants of the Negro Leagues had competitive games – generations have come and gone, but at times the memory seems more alive than ever.
Encouraging the preservation of the Negro Leagues is Kadir Nelson – who takes on the task of planting this memory in the minds of children – and does so successfully with We Are The Ship.
The fruit of a seven-year labor, Nelson not only wrote the book but handled the illustrations, which with all respect due to the text, are the real highlights of the book. An accomplished artist who has had works commissioned by Dreamworks, Sports Illustrated, Coca-Cola, the New York Times, Major League Baseball and many others – being able to hold such a collection of baseball artwork should be a treat to any reader, regardless of age.
Now the book is written for children — ages 8 and up according to the notes — but it certainly didn’t feel like it to me. I do worry what that might say about my own academic level…but that’s beside the point. Anyone could easily pick up this book and feel engaged without feeling like you’re reading a children’s book. Nelson is telling a story – multiple stories to be precise — and often times stories don’t need to employ big words to be successful. Told from the position of the Negro League “Everyman,” it’s almost like transcribed oral history.
So put together remarkable artwork and an accessible and engaging story and you end up with a fairly successful book. While I don’t envision this being a book that is referenced in academia – I do hope it finds its way into the hands of young baseball fans and gives them the opportunity to learn about a remarkable part of America’s history. This would make a great book for the younger fan – and provide for a discussion point for parents, grandparents and others who can enrich the story Nelson tells with their own.