Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 22, 2012

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Gleaming portraits juxtaposed with action scenes and framed pencil sketches made the walls seem alive at the opening of We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  We left for the auditorium to hear Kadir Nelson, who came from Los Angeles to speak earlier that day to some very excited second graders, who drew while lying on the gallery floor. Now he told a mix of grownups and children about how the book began from a big painting he did as a junior at Pratt. He became fascinated by these baseball players, and brought more paintings to Sports Illustrated, where some were published, beginning a career working in magazines before publishing for children.

While working on various projects, Kadir kept on painting the baseball players on large canvases. He sometimes combined a historic image with action shots he make by posing himself in uniform, putting his camera on a tripod, and setting the timer. He studied scale and chose angles that emphasized size: “the Negro League is an epic part of history to me, so I wanted to give the players their due.” He told us of his careful research and checking the time and place of each part of the book, putting together the correct players with the right uniforms and details of each ballpark. And he confided a mistake he’d made before writing this book about getting a detail wrong, and what he learned from that.

He brought his paintings to Andrea Pinkney, an editor at Disney, who encouraged him to write the text, which was a surprise to him, since he’d been a boy who hated to read, especially about history: it wasn’t until he was a teen, that he found subjects he wanted to read about. He read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people until one day he heard: Seems like we’ve been playing for a mighty long time. And he knew he’d found a way to tell the story through the collective voice of the players.

Kadir Nelson started out thinking he’d do three paintings about the Negro League, but it became more than thirty for a book that took about seven years to create. During that time that he was working on other projects, winning many honors. Most recently Heart and Soul: The Story of America African Americans is doing just what Kadir expressed is his hope as a creator. To take “stories that are sometimes negative and turn them around into something beautiful.”

The show will be up through June 10, and Kadir Nelson will speak again on April 1, along with NPR’s Scott Simon and Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, about their picture book, Testing the Ice. Please click here for more information.




  1. […] MANY thanks to Jeannine Atkins for recalling my attention to this book. Yet another example of Jeannine’s excellent taste in books. Share […]

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