Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

We Are the Ship

What is it that makes We Are the Ship so heart-thumping? Anyone who enjoys a live baseball game will feel that familiar stadium-big excitement that comes across in Nelson’s stunning paintings, with their photographic compositions and larger-than-life perspectives. The heft of the large square book adds to the thrill, and I find myself turning to it often to page through the heavy, slick pages and look one great man after another in the eye. It’s a book that makes you feel both humble, and powerful. 

Nelson’s text also adds to the tone. It is in a conversational first-person-plural that one might not expect in nonfiction, but which has the immediacy, familiarity, and humor of an oral history, and is at the same time documented with footnotes. If there’s a baseball authority out there who wants to remark on the accuracy/perspective of his telling, his choice of sources, etc., that would be most welcome! I haven’t even begun to look into that. It’s clear from his author’s note that Nelson has been immersed in his subject matter for many many years. 

Many have hailed this book as one that could win many various awards: Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert, Coretta Scott King both for Writing and Illustration.  When looking at it for Newbery, I find myself challenged to evaluate the text on its own.  As much as I enjoyed the tone and the message, I have to say I had a hard time staying engaged with the narrative, and I’m not sure if it’s my own personal taste, or a design flaw, the text itself, or a combination.  The more I look at the text design I wonder if it is not the major player. Though of a piece with the overall book design, the VERY long lines of small text, and solid paragraphs broken only by chapter headings, is visually dense.  Where do you enter?  If your eyes leave the page for a moment, or you fall off before the end of one of those long lines (happened to me a lot…the lines are just too wide for my vision…I really have to move my eyes, rather than being able to take in a whole line at once) … where do you get back in? And what was going on? 

I’d hate for a design flaw to get in the way of a fair evaluation of the text, so I might have to read this again. Anyone else had a hard time of it? Or anyone got a hook for me?

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at



    Not the sort of comment you’re looking for, but just so you know, when I click on the “read more” link, it brings me straight to the Oakland Library record for We Are the Ship, rather than the post about the book. I worry that not everyone will know that you can work around that by clicking on the comments button, so you might need to fix it.

  2. Eva Mitnick says:

    While I found the text engaging enough to keep me reading about a subject in which I had little previous knowledge or interest, it was the illustrations that made this book so powerful. All those ball players gazing benevolently at the reader (who always appears to be down at about knee level) – wow! And the colors! And the details! My review:

  3. James Caparas says:

    Thanks for the discussion. For those interested,the BBC has made a short feature on Nelson and his thoughts in making the book. It is on Youtube when you enter “Kadir Nelson”

  4. Nina Lindsay says:

    (Thanks “Brooks Free Library”…somehow the link I’d inserted for the title “We Are the Ship” was interfering with the “Read More” link. I just removed the title link and it seems to work.)

  5. Melissa Depper says:

    I first looked at all the illustrations, then I went back and read the book cover to cover. I didn’t notice any problems tracking the text, but I’m a baseball fan, so maybe that had something to do with it? I agree it’s a pretty solid block of print. I truly enjoyed the narrative and the voice, but this post is giving me the chance to think more critically about the writing: I’m not sure if the text would work on its own. But isn’t most children’s non-fiction now presented as a marriage of words and images? Think of Phineas Gage, or Quest for the Tree Kangaroo. And if so, will that impact how non-fiction fares in the Newbery? I guess I need to re-read Lincoln: A Photobiography to see how that compares.

  6. Nina Lindsay says:

    The award that does the best justice to nonfiction–judging text, image, design, and endmatter together–is the Sibert award. It’s more difficult for nonfiction to get at the Newbery b/c nonfiction’s brillance is often in these combined elements, and not necessarily in text alone. Nevertheless, there have been nonfiction Newberies. Three years in a row recently they garnered honors: Hitler Youth, The Voice That Challenged a Nation, and An American Plague. You have to go back to 88 for a nonfiction winner: Lincoln, A Photobiography. And of course the very first Newbery book, The Story of Mankind, was nonfiction.

Speak Your Mind