Monday, February 18, 2008

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
By Kadir Nelson
Most enjoyed by baseball lovers in 5th through 8th grade

Spring training has started, Cubs and White Sox tickets go on sale in a few days, and the temperatures are in the single digits. What better time to talk about baseball! 'We are the Ship' is a book that celebrates the joy of baseball while at the same time providing a lesson in the history of race relations in our country.

For years, black and white baseball players could not play together on the same team. It wasn't a written rule; just one accepted and understood by white owners of professional baseball teams. Since they were not allowed to play professional baseball, African Americans formed their own teams. Most of these teams weren't very successful until Rube Foster came along and organized the Negro Baseball League. Rube knew that if blacks were one day to break into professional baseball, they needed to be as good as white baseball players. An African American league would give the players a chance to prove their ability.
Today, it's hard to look back on that time and imagine passing up the opportunity to see some of baseball's legends play just because of their skin color. The Negro League was home to the likes to Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Cool Papa Bell. It was the starting place for Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. These players faced incredible hardships yet it never squashed their love of baseball. Teams traveled from town to town on buses, often going miles out of their way on backroads to avoid going through towns where blacks were not welcome. When white teams could stop at a restaurant to get someting to eat, African American teams had to pass up those same places because they were not welcome. Imagine playing a double header with only two hot dogs and a soda in your belly because that's all you could get. Wouldn't think of it today, would we?
Kadir Nelson has written a fascinating history of Negro League baseball. Easy to read, it makes you wish you could go back in time to see many of the players mentioned play. I loved reading about some of the players, especially their knicknames - 'Turkey" Stearns, "Biz" Mackey, and "Mules" Suttles. The artwork in the book is truly amazing. I suppose since it's a baseball book, it's not quite right to call the pcitures beautiful but that's just what they are. The paintings of the various players makes you want to reach out and touch them. Check out the picture of Rube Foster and his American Giants arriving in town by train. You'll wish you could step into the picture and get an autograph or two.
'We are the Ship' has my vote for a 2009 Caldecott Medal. Check it out and see if you don't agree.

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