Author: (& Illustrator!) Kadir Nelson
Lexile Score: n/a
Genre: nonfiction, history
Maturity level: 4th grade
Pages: 81 Chapters: 9 + 1 extra inning Average Chapter Length: 8-9 pages with every other page a painting
Theme: African-American history, Baseball, Race, Perseverance
Project ideas: Research a Negro League player, make a baseball card
First Line: Seems like we've been playing baseball a mighty long time.
Main Character: all the baseball greats
Review in 25 words or less: Amazing. I looked at the paintings longer than I did the words! A gripping story, peppered with amazing facts and even more amazing stories.
In We Are the Ship, the story of the Negro Baseball League is told through the eyes of one who lived it. It has all the facts and figures to surely be a historical baseball book. It also has all the stories and personalities to be a very personable and emotional read. The voice of "We" tells the story from the very conception of Negro League baseball through Jackie Robinson's joining the Braves. The author takes care to describe all the important characters - building their legends with vivid language.
If this book were its story alone, it would be fascinating. But it is also filled - and I do mean filled - with paintings of the league and its players, owners, umps, and bus trips. The paintings are GORGEOUS. I don't remember any children's book that had illustrations that made me stop to study them for so long. The portraits are so intense - Nelson has most of the subjects looking right at you - THROUGH you - and I felt drawn in to look at them as hard as they were looking at me.
As a book club book, I think Negro League Baseball would be a wonderful subject to study and discuss as a club. There are many situations in this book that would be wonderful discussion - even debate - material. It would be interesting to figure out how to read it together, due to its length and the fact that it is so gripping it demands to be read straight through. It is so good I will absolutely HAVE to share it with my students. But whether or not book club is the best way to do this I am not certain. I'm not going to add it to the grade-level list for that reason.
This is sure to be at the top of the list of Newbery contenders for 2008!