To coin a phrase I recently heard in a tape by Katie Wood Ray on writing workshop in the classroom, I “stand on the shoulders” of many others when I write about this fascinating book by Kadir Nelson, We Are the Ship, The Story of Negro League Baseball. Several other blogs have already reviewed this book, notably: Fuse #8, Books for Kids, and I.N.K. .
While all those reviews are wonderful, I feel a need to throw in my own two cents on this Nonfiction Monday. This book is mesmerizing with both its powerful illustrations and its finely crafted text. Illustrations and text are both done by Kadir Nelson, already an award-winning illustrator, but in my opinion, with this book, he will also become an award-winning author/illustrator (can you say Caldecott?!!).
Each time I open this book, I am overwhelmed by the illustrations. I think it is because the characters dwarf each page and are the focal point; the settings in the illustrations seem to be secondary. Nelson focused a lot on the details of the characters' faces, arms, and hands. The reader’s eyes are immediately drawn to these body parts, and I am in awe of his ability to draw the veins in a person’s hand so realistically, it seems as if you could reach out and touch them. In addition, the skin tones are beautifully done with shadows and light. Another focal point in each illustration are the uniforms, with attention paid to the names of the different teams across the chest. Once again, light and shadows make for very realistic looking uniforms.
The layout and organization of this book is very cleverly done. It starts with a foreword by Hank Aaron. Then, Kadir’s text starts with “1st Inning, Beginnings”. This book is divided into “9 Innings”, and then a section called “Extra Innings” (see I.N.K.’s review for a synopsis of what each “Inning” covers). We start with the beginnings of Negro League Baseball and conclude with the end of Negro League Baseball.
This story has great voice, something I love about this nonfiction text. It is written in first person, with the voice of someone who played in Negro League Baseball. By having a former player relay the information in this book, it brings familiarity to the players that are mentioned, and makes them seem “human”, not just a bundle of facts and statistics.
However, that being said, the information that I learned while reading this text was phenomenal. This is a whole cross-section of life of which I was unaware. The Negro League's importance in the history of baseball is well documented here. In fact, in the very last paragraph of the book, Nelson writes:
“If there had been no such thing as Negro League, there would have been no Jackie Robinson or Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. These guys stand on our shoulders.”
I think that says it all.
If you want to get a glimpse of this hunk of an author, check out this myspace on Kadir Nelson. There is even a little video for you to get up close and personal. Enjoy!
For the Nonfiction Monday roundup, head on over to Picture Book of the Day.