Book of the Week

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Monday, February 25, 2008

The Story of Negro League Baseball
By Kadir Nelson
Ages 8 and up

Author and artist Kadir Nelson spent more than seven years researching, writing and illustrating this book. His effort shows on each page.

African Americans have "been playing baseball for a mighty long time," he writes in a folksy, first-person style that easily transports the reader back through time. You'll feel as if you are in the dugout with Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and a host of players you've never heard of.

They come alive, too, in Nelson's colorful illustrations. There's a new one with each flip of the page. "Powerful paintings," Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron calls them.

The story is powerful as well. The title comes from Andrew "Rube" Foster, who founded the Negro National League in 1920. "We are the ship; all else the sea," he said, meaning that the new league would set its own course.

It had to, because many whites were not ready to accept Negroes, as they were then known, as equals. Players traveled by bus (often without being able to clean up after a game) and might ride hundreds of miles without a meal or a bed because restaurants and motels wouldn't serve them. They were paid much less than whites, and they sometimes arrived for a game only to find that the field was little more than a cow pasture.

They loved the game, which didn't always love them back. This book helps make up for that.

-- Marylou Tousignant

© 2008 The Washington Post Company