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?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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