Friday, May 8, 2009

REVIEW: We Are the Ship

Nelson, K.  (2008).  We Are the Ship:  The story of the negro league baseball.  New York:  Jump at the Sun.




We Are the Ship uses a unique voice to share the experiences of African Americans who were unofficially not allowed to participate in the white baseball leagues and instead set out and formed their own league.  This award-winning book has been honored not only for the information it shares but also for the paintings that are featured throughout the book.  Many interesting facts are also included.  My favorite chapter, or inning as they’re called in this book, is the second inning, “A Different Brand of Baseball.” Which shares many of the quirky happenings that separated the negro league from others and made the games especially interesting.—one player caught balls while resting in a rocking chair, another would pretend to read the newspaper.  You get the idea.


This unusual fully-illustrated information book, includes a unique narrative voice that asserts having experienced the negro baseball leagues of the first part of the twentieth century.  It also assumes blackness on the part of the reader and draws comparisons between then and now when it comes to the way baseball is played.


A cross between a picture and chapter book, this book may especially appeal to reluctant readers who love baseball.  If the student declares him or herself “too old for picturebooks” a teacher could reinforce the fact that there are many interesting sports facts they won’t be able to find anywhere else.


While this book may be intended for boys, I still think the lack of women described is worthy of complaint.  (It does manage to incorporate information about some of the central American leagues, but is completely silent about women players).  The only woman mentioned at all is Effa Manley who owned the Newark Eagles with her husband.  There were, however, a few mentions of women in general:

1.     “Women have always loved ballplayers, you know” (p. 34).

2.     “Latin women sure were pleasing to the eye” (p. 53).

3.     In bigger cities “ladies’ night” games would include beauty or swimsuit contests (p. 66).

What about the women who were married to the league members?  The mothers?  Daughters?  Were they not worthy of a mention?  Ever?  

As a woman who has yet to love a baseball player, know any woman who has loved a baseball player (historically or presently) and who enjoys being a sex object more than ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD (it’s why I get up in the morning, dress professionally and conservatively and then go off and teach children’s literature), I’m vaguely offended by all of this.  The narrator, who consistently speaks of ‘us’ and ‘we’ in the voice of an old school black ballplayer, apparently meant 'not women' and 'not me' in that ‘us’.  As if women haven’t already been excluded from enough sports conversations and leagues historically.  You kinda dropped the ball there, Kadir Nelson.

Rant over, I promise.



Activities to do with the book:


This information book could be used to flesh out a lesson about the history of sports or a lesson about segregation, structural and personal.  The story could be used as an example of writing that has a strong voice and could be a model for students to create their own writing voices and narrators. 


A teacher could use the illustrations to do a study on creating portraits or how to show movement.  Seriously, look at some of these paintings, how they capture the details of the players and give them a sense of power:

I probably wouldn’t just hand this information book to most students.  Rather, I’d share small anecdotes from the book to help create interest.


And of course after reading this, students could play ball.



Favorite Quotes:


“We are the ship; all else the sea” (Rube Foster)


“Seems like we’ve been playing baseball for a mighty long time.  At least as long as we’ve been free.  Baseball’s the best game there ever was.  It’s a beautifully designed game that requires a quick wit, a strong body, and a cool head” (p. 1).


“Some guys would clown on the field.  Throw the ball behind their backs and get the guy out at first.  Or play shadow ball, where the infielders would whip an imaginary ball around the bases.  If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought they had a real ball” (p. 17).

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