A Daunting Look at America’s Pastime

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Written & illustrated by Kadir Nelsonship

Published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-786-80832-8

Format: Nonfiction/informational

96 Pages ~ Ages 9 & up


In We Are the Ship, Nelson pays tribute to Negro League baseball in an over-sized book filled with breathtaking illustrations and a heartfelt story of talented players, owners, and racial difficulties of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Baseball fans, young and old, are acquainted with a league that paved the way for well-known players like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Incorporating brilliant, full-page oil paintings, Nelson details the league’s rich history in an authentic tone.

An “old timer” narrates the triumphs and hardships of men on and off the field in a story that acquaints baseball fans young and old with a league that paved the way for well-known players like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. Talented athletes and owners are remembered for their passion for the game and determination to overcome segregation while playing America’s pastime. As they broke down the barriers of discrimination, Negro League players refused to give up playing the game they loved, despite lower pay, being denied service in hotels and restaurants, and unfair treatment by umpires. We Are the Ship embodies just about every aspect of the baseball experience – from verbiage to illustrations symbolic of ballpark imagery and game play on the diamond and the players’ style of dress. The framed photo on the front cover and quotes on the back cover are reminiscent of the sports page of a newspaper. Nelson includes a foreword by Hank Aaron, and then uses chapters – aptly named innings – to tell the story of Negro League baseball through the years. Dividing the book into “innings” allows Nelson to adequately describe the inner workings of Negro League baseball while creatively captioning what each chapter entails with a unique title and quote from someone of importance in the league.

Weaving a heartfelt text of racial difficulties, remarkable gameplay, breathtaking illustrations, collective voice, and baseball verbiage, Nelson creates the perfect way to tell the story of unsung heroes, who with their heart and soul, played to pave a way for African-Americans to the Major League. Such rich history makes the book not only an interesting read for baseball fans, a key starting point for research, and a great coffee table book.


  • Sibert Medal
  • Coretta Scott King Award (author)
  • Coretta Scott King Honor (illustrator)
  • multiple starred reviews

Read Alikes

  • Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
  • Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  • Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson

Stumbling Upon a Scary Monster and a Wild Tiger

Ok, maybe not really. At least not together anyway. But let me tell you about the ones I recently encountered.

So, maybe you’ve heard of a guy named Peter Brown? Or you may have read my earlier post about his hilariously, witty picturebook Children Make Terrible Pets. Well, I borrowed two more of his children’s books from the library the other day and laughed my heart out again. This guy tells some amazingly, funny stories. I’m sure you and your little ones will adore them as much as I did.

Here are a few reasons I’m a Peter Brown fan:

Back end flap from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Back end flap from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

1. consistency – This author/illustrator always uses every inch of a book to connect with his readers; even the end flaps.

2. age appropriate – Brown uses language kids are familiar with and can easily read.

3. humor – His stories are uniquely funny and adult readers will laugh at the similarity between the characters and children they know. The cherry on top is how Brown’s illustrations enhance the text. The characters’ facial expressions in My Teacher is a Monster! (No I Am Not.) are priceless.

4. illustrations – Brown’s use of warm earth tones (in the background) is so calm and soothing – a pleasant contrast to the humorous text. Using mostly green and brown hues, he manages to add “pops” of color with subtle tints of pink. I love how he expands on this in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, where he uses a bright orange against brown hues to make the tiger stand out. What I love most about Brown’s illustrations are his effective use of white space to emphasize important details in the artwork.

Example of Brown's use of white space

Example of Brown’s use of white space

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When Love Wins

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage

Written by Selina Alko

Illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko

Published by Arthur A. Levine, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-47853-3

Format: Picturebook; biography

40 Pages ~ Ages 5-8

Brief Summary

In Virginia during the 1950s, segregation was a prominent theme. But, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter didn’t see color. They loved each other from the moment they met. The two drove across the state line to Washington, D.C. to marry so they might live happily, ever after. Only, not everyone in Virginia was pleased with their interracial marriage. This is the story of how they fought state laws all the way to the Supreme Court to openly love one another while building a family.

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Illustrator Extraordinaire

Confession: I have absolutely fallen in love with award-winning author/illustrator Melissa Sweet! Believe me, there are some awesome illustrators out there. I just choose to believe Melissa Sweet is one of THE. BEST. I have not yet put my hand on a work of hers that has not taken my breath away. Let me just say, her collage and mixed-media illustrations are amazing. In a nutshell: they make my heart melt! Sweet has been blessed with one-of-a-kind talent. Her work is extremely detailed, intricate, and flawless. It is apparent she puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into making the perfect masterpiece each time. With nearly 100 books illustrated, she is nothing short of a mastermind. I only wish to someday experience her inspiration.

Sweet was at the ALA Conference in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago; I sure wish I could have been in attendance. Something tells me security had much easier work days without having to deal with this cray-cray fan run through the venue trying to be the first in line at her author signing.

I’m sure you aren’t late to the Melissa Sweet party, but just in case you are – or just haven’t had the chance to check them off your to-read list – these are a few of my faves. Check them out at your school or local library. I promise you’ll love them as much as I do.

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poemsfirefly

Written by Paul B. Janeczko

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Candlewick Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-763-64842-8

Format: Non-fiction; poetry

48 Pages ~ Ages 6-9

Awards: Parent’s Choice Gold Award, Publishers Weekly  Best Books, ALA Notable Books for Children, School Library Journal Best Books, et al.

As a Vine newbie, I previewed a few of my favorite illustrations from the book to get a feel for using the app.

The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town

Written by Judy Sierra

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Candlewick Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-84002-9

Format: Picturebook

40 Pages ~ Ages 2-5

Award: Oppenheim Toy Portfolio

It’s bedtime for some busy letters in Alphabet Town, but these little ones put up a fight when its time to call it a night. In her own fashion, Sweet’s collage and watercolor letters bounce around to do everything except close their eyes. What a fun read-aloud for teaching early learners the alphabet!

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippinred

Written by Jen Bryant

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-96712-2

Format: Picturebook; biography

48 Pages ~ Ages 5-8

Awards: Sibert Honor, NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, Schneider Family Book Award, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, et al.

“Pictures just come to my mind…and I tell my heart to go ahead.” There’s no better quote from Horace Pippin that could adequately describe the genuine artwork Sweet created to illustrate his life.

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Paradeballoons

Written & illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-19945-0

Format: Informational/nonfiction; biography

40 Pages ~ Ages 4-8

Awards: NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, Caldecott Medal, Sibert Medal, Golden Kite Award, ALA Notable Children’s Book

Read my earlier blog about Balloons Over Broadway.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurusword

Written by Jen Bryant

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-96712-2

Format: Picturebook biography

42 Pages ~ Ages 7-12

Awards: Caldecott Honor, Sibert Medal, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor, New York Times Notable Children’s Book, Junior Library Guild Selection, School Library Journal Best Book, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, et al.

Here’s my blog post about The Right Word.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williamsriver

Written by Jen Bryant

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5302-8

Format: Picturebook; biography

34 Pages ~ Ages 7+

Awards: Caldecott Honor, ALA Notable Children’s Book, NCTE Notable Children’s Book & Orbis Pictus Award, Charlotte Zolotow Honor, New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, et al.

Head over to Sweet’s website to see more of her brilliant work.