We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Considering I don’t give a fig about sports, this book had me hooked. You can flip through it and just look at the illustrations – but take a good look. Notice the way you’re mostly looking up at the players from ground-level – like you’re a kid at one of the games, and the sun is shining and the sky is beyond blue, and these guys start looking like giants. There are some fantastic action shots, with a great sense of movement and muscle, and then there are all these portrait illustrations that are almost more impressive. The format of the book does justice to these pictures – it’s big and square, and most of the illustrations are full page, no white space, maximizing the size and color.

The narrative is almost equally impressive, although not so breath-taking. The style is colloquial, told in the second person, and full of anecdotes. Let me repeat – I don’t care about baseball, but these stories were entertaining. And since it focuses in one this one piece of history – Negro League baseball – as a sort of microcosm for American history and racism, it would be a fantastic book for younger readers who are learning about segregation. Probably for upper elementary on up – even through high school, and definitely for anyone interested in baseball history, no matter what age.

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In the Battle of the Books, We Are the Ship beat out The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks in round one, but lost to The Hunger Games in round two.  I’m finding the rationale behind each decision more interesting than which book actually wins each match, because this is an excellent group of books, and with this style of judging, it really does seem to come down to taste, whether the judges admit it or not.

In that first round, both Frankie and Ship were thought-provoking in such different ways.  I don’t think the scope really matters – one girl’s struggle to find her place or an entire race of baseball players trying to do what they love.  What’s compelling is that glimpse we’re given of the struggle, and to my mind, those two books were pretty fairly matched, but I’m not going to argue with the decision.  Or with The Hunger Game‘s win – that was a book that sucked me in and let me forget it was a book in a way that the other two didn’t quite (maybe because I was too busy thinking about Lockhart and Nelson’s use of point of view – fascinating, but distracting).  The Hunger Games is much more of a plot book.

Now, when Octavian Nothing comes up against Chains in round three – now THERE I have a real opinion.  If Octavian doesn’t come out on top – well, I’ll have to go weep over my copy and reread it.  Octavian himself wouldn’t be shocked to lose – and Isabelle is a much more spunky character to my mind – but give me melancholy Prince O any day.  When I read Chains, I couldn’t help but compare it to Octavian, and it  suffered in the comparison.  Chains is an interesting piece of historical fiction that deserves a sharp reprimand for not warning us it’s Volume 1.  Octavian doesn’t mess around with you like that.  And Tim Wynne-Jones is right – Bono gets all the best lines.  Sweet mercy in a firkin, Bono – help us out here.