Monday, April 7, 2008

Book Review: We Are the Ship

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. (Grades 4+)

Kadir Nelson... how do we know this name? Ah, yes. He's won Caldecott honors for Moses and Henry's Freedom Box. And he's also written and illustrated a fantastic book about baseball.

We Are the Ship takes the reader right into the time of the Negro League. Before Jackie Robinson "crossed over" to the Major Leagues in 1945, African-American players had to play in their own leagues. It wasn't easy. Sometimes they had to sleep on busses or go all day without eating because the establishments in the area wouldn't serve Negroes. Sometimes they had to be sure not to beat the other team too badly because they might be run out of town (and have to go without pay).

Possibly worst of all, the great Negro players didn't get the recognition they deserved. Although there were Negro players who were as good or better than white players, many of their names have been lost over the course of history. Which is why this book is important.

And that's why it was so surprising to me that the three women who played in the Negro Leagues were not mentioned.

Okay, I concede that the bulk of the book wraps up around 1945 when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mamie Johnson, Toni Stone, and Connie Morgan didn't join the league until somewhere around 1953. But I can't help but think that Nelson is doing to the women players what so many people did to the African-American players... by neglecting to even mention them, he's effectively erasing them from history. The subtitle of this book proclaims it to be "the story of Negro League Baseball". Why aren't women a part of that story?

(And why don't any other reviews mention this omission?)