2009 Sibert Award Winning Book


We Are the Ship  



Nelson, Kadir. 2008. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.  New York: Hyperion         Book CH.                                                                                                    

ISBN 9780786808328


Plot Summary

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson is a nonfictional account of the struggles endured by African American baseball players as they faced injustices and racial discrimination. This book is an historical account, told in nine innings, that describes the talented athletes, the coaches, the team owners and often, the bigoted fans. The last chapter of this great book includes factual information about baseball and integration and includes quotes from several sources involved in Negro League Baseball.  Nelson tells the story through an anonymous player-narrator. Nelson’s book is truly an informational book that tells of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947.


“We are the ships; all else the sea.”  Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League.



Critical Analysis

Kadir Nelson spent many years researching We Are the Ship to ensure that it was factual and would be well received by African Americans and baseball fans alike.  Mr. Nelson’s book is a  factual and well written document. Nelson’s illustrations, he refers to them as paintings, are truly exceptional. Each scene is well represented with lifelike drawings of the players, coaches and team owners. There are multiple two-page “paintings” in this book that are both creative and informational. Children and young readers will enjoy the written word as much as the beautiful art work. Also, there is an excellent index at the back of the book that will guide readers looking for additional information on this historical time in baseball history.



2009 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal

2009 Coretta Scott King Book Award-Author Award Winner

2009 Coretta Scott King Book Award- Honor Book Illustrator

2009 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children-Honor book

2009-2010 Nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet Award

Review Excerpts


School Library Journal: “A lost piece of American history comes to life in Kadir Nelson’s elegant and eloquent history (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2008) of the Negro Leagues and its gifted baseball players. The history of the Leagues echoes the social and political struggles of black America during the first half of the 20th century. There were scores of ballplayers who never became as famous as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and were almost lost in obscurity because of segregation—and Nelson recreates their history here. The narrative is divided into nine innings, beginning with Rube Foster and his formation of the first Negro League in 1920 and closing with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier into white major league baseball. In between are fascinating snippets of the events and men who formed the Negro Leagues. Listeners glimpse the pain black Americans endured because of bigotry and segregation, but the true center of this story is the joy of baseball and the joy men felt at being able to play the game. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who began playing with the Negro Leagues, provides the foreword.”


Booklist: “Award-winning illustrator and first-time author Nelson’s history of the Negro Leagues, told from the vantage point of an unnamed narrator, reads like an old-timer regaling his grandchildren with tales of baseball greats Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and others who forged the path toward breaking the race barrier before Jackie Robinson made his historic debut. The narrative showcases the pride and comradery of the Negro Leagues, celebrates triumphing on one’s own terms and embracing adversity, even as it clearly shows the “us” and “them” mentality bred by segregation.”



Introduce a discussion about sports.

Ask who are today’s star athletes?

Contrast and compare how athletes are treated in today’s sports arena and yesteryear’s.


Related Books


Nelson, Kadir. 2009. Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

  ISBN 1416989552


Nelson, Kadir. 2011. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. New York: Balzer + Bray. 

 ISBN 9780061730740


Nelson, Kadir. 2005. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. New York, NY: Dial.

ISBN 9780803728509