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We Are the Ship-The Story of Negro League Baseball



Last updated Friday, February 17, 2012

Author: Kadir Nelson
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Date of Publication: 2008
ISBN: 0786808322
Grade Level: 4th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Nov. 2011

Synopsis: From School Library Journal:
A lost piece of American history comes to life in Kadir Nelson's eloquent history of the Negro Leagues. 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.

Note to readers:
•  This is the story of a African American baseball league: The "Negro League". The book is written in a colloquial, first person style as a member of this league. As such, he explains in the 1st Inning why why he says "negro or colored" and not " African American". Stress that this is the language of the past.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Do any of you play basketball? (Make sure they are all familiar with the rules and positions)
•  Have you heard of segregation?
•  The chapters each tell part of the story of the "Negro Leagues". You can skip through vignettes.
Recommended: 1st Inning: Beginnings (p1), 6th Inning: Latin America: Baseball in paradise(p.53), 9th Inning, then came Jack Robinson.

Vocabulary
•  "Gentleman's agreement" (an agreement based on honor rather than legally bound)
•  Swallow our pride (to accept that you must do something you don't want to do)
•  Pass off (one person as another)
•  Okinawa and Guadalcanal (WWII Battle Sites)
•  Barnstorming (to make a rapid tour of an area)
•  Epithet (a characterizing word or phrase, or an abusive word or phrase)

Baseball Terms:
•  Bunt (gently tapping a ptiched ball)
•  BB (when a pitcher "walks" a batter by throwing four "balls," or pitches outside of the target zone)
•  Pinch hit (a substitute for a regular batter)

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Was it a good idea to create their own league?
•  How would it feel to be kicked off a team because of the color of your skin?
•  Do you play on a team that travels to other places?
•  What happened to the major leagues and the Negro leagues after Jackie Robinson played?
•  Where did the Dodgers play when Jackie Robinson was on the team? Where do they play now?

Craft ideas:
•  Make your own "baseball card" with picture and stats. It could be for any sport or talent. Show a sample card for reference.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!