I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., paintings by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade)
Most children know the holiday dedicated to the civil rights movement leader, and for those who aren’t familiar with the 1963 speech that makes up the text for this big, colorful book, this will be a wonderful introduction. The paintings not only keep to the tone of hope and dignity in the speech, but amplify it. The book begins with the Lincoln Memorial setting, first seen as if from above, then in a close-up of Dr. King with a shadowed Lincoln statue behind him. Then, again, we get a long view, with the placards listeners hold catching the light, looking almost like lanterns under a big pale sky. The dream gets illustrated movingly, and we see the beautiful and varied hills and mountains that Dr. King mentions in his “let freedom ring” refrain. White doves under a blue sky end the book, along with the complete text of the speech. The book includes a CD of the speech, too, one which is worth listening to again and again.
It’s been a bit of a strange spring so far in New England. After a winter so warm I never even pulled out my wool socks, the summery March days we had woke the tulips up ahead of schedule before cooling way down again. Baseball season, however, started up right on time, and this year I’ve been paying a little more attention than usual. In conjunction with the current exhibition, We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Original Paintings by Kadir Nelson, The Carle will be hosting its annual Children’s Book Festival on Saturday, June 9th. It’s going to be a great day, filled with author and illustrator demonstrations, story times, a choral performance, guided gallery tours, games, art activities, and even a special presentation by members of the Negro League Baseball Players Association.
I’m not proud to admit that I’ve been pretty ignorant of baseball most of my life (it was after moving to the Boston area a few years ago, that I learned that Red Sox was spelled with an –x at the end as opposed to the more traditional ‘socks’), but this season has been different. Surrounded by the deep beauty of Kadir Nelson’s paintings and helping to plan the baseball-themed Children’s Book Festival has revealed to me the allure of the sport—the patience, the elegance, the ability to fail but then still succeed. And along with that, I’ve discovered an amazing number of extraordinary baseball picture books—gorgeous books that capture the electric crack of the bat as well as tell stories of the sport’s momentous history and heroes. We’re grateful to have such a host of these illustrators and authors coming to the museum on June 9th to greet fans, sign books and talk about their work. Here is a sampling of just some of these wonderful books. Check them out, read up, and come back to have them signed on June 9th! Go Socks!
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, Written by Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Don Tate
Lipman Pike: America's First Home Run King, Written by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by Zachary Pullen
There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares
Satchel Paige, Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E. Ransome
We were so lucky to have Kadir Nelson join us at The Carle for the opening reception of our newest exhibition, We Are The Ship, this weekend. On Saturdday night, Nelson led a wonderfully moving presentation about his seven year journey toward publishing this amazing book. He showed us images of his first three paintings of the American Negro League players, done while still a student at the Pratt Institute, which were the initial inspiration for creating the book. It was so wonderful to see these early illustrations, quite different from the final illustrations in the book, where the figures were more like exaggerated caricatures. Players with extremely long arms, huge hands and windmill-like arms reveal Kadir Nelson’s awe of these players’ immense superhuman-like baseball skills.
After he got a contract with his editor, Andrea Pinkney, to not only illustrated bu also write the book, Nelson immersed himself in years of extensive research. It was amazing to hear him talk about old black-and-white baseball photographs and see through his, an artist’s, eyes. He put them up on the projected screen and pointed out the precise body language of the players, the advertisements on the walls in the background. Artful diagonals and unusual horizons were captured at these unique angles because, at this time, photographs were allowed on the ballfield with the players. “That’s what I wanted my book to be,” Nelson said.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Original Paintings by Kadir Nelson Tour Management by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri
Inspired by these photographs and using his own unique talents, Nelson created paintings that look like exaggerated color versions of these old photographs. Readers feel like they are looking up in awe at these giants of ballplayers in stunning still portraits, and feel like they are right on the field in breathtaking action shots. This awe of the ballplayers is echoed in Nelson’s voice as he gushes about meeting actual Negro League players Buck O’Neil and Walt McCoy. After doing so much research through books, photographs and newspapers, for Nelson, meeting these historical heroes was “like meeting Abraham Lincoln after writing a book report on him.” He shared photographs of them together and sound recordings of their conversations with the audience. Through these personal interactions, Nelson was finally able to tackle writing his first book text. He admits that the prospect of writing the book, as well as illustrating it, left him “pleased but also petrified” because he didn’t feel like “a writer.” Inspired by a quote from Nikki Giovanni, “There is no such thing as writer’s block, there’s just lack of information,” Nelson relied on his dedicated research and pure love of history and the game to help bring the text of the book together.Through the conversations with O’Neil and McCoy, he realized that he had to capture their voice and tell the story as if these players collectively are telling their story and speaking together to the reader.
He went on to talk about his more recent venture in writing and illustrating with his award-winning 2011 book, Heart and Soul. He explained that he wanted to tell the American story from the African American perspective, and like writing We Are The Ship with players like Buck O’Neil in mind, he wrote Heart and Soul through the voice of a 102-year-old narrator, whose life and family’s lives paralleled the story of America. In this way, Nelson explains, all of our lives and our family’s lives are the American story and America’s history is the story of how they all intertwine. He spoke about his passion for taking stories that are not necessarily positive and turning them into something beautiful and palatable. The ability to create beauty and share the light inside of us is, Nelson says, human kind’s greatest gift.
Photo by Kristin Angel
Kadir Nelson, Jerry Pinkney, and Tony DiTerlizzi. Photo by Kristin Angel.
Following Saturday’s presentation, Nelson gave a wonderful personal tour of his gallery, followed by a book signing.
Photo by Kristin Angel.
Photo by Kristin Angel
For more about Kadir Nelson’s visit, including a wonderful tour and presentation he gave on Friday to students from the Maurice Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke as part of NEA grant programming, visit MassLive’s website.
There’s a wonderful video of the visit as well. If you missed the chance to meet Kadir Nelson, he’ll be back with us on Sunday, April 1st for an event with Sharon Robinson, daughter of ballplayer great Jackie Robinson, and Simon Scott. Hope to see you there!
We are so excited to be hosting an exhibition of Kadir Nelson’s illustrations from the award-winning book, We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. The exhibition opened last week and we’re hosting special events this weekend with Kadir Nelson to celebrate. We begin the festivities with a Members’ reception for the exhibition, Saturday, February 18th and then welcome Kadir Nelson back to The Carle on Sunday, February 19th to give a personal gallery tour at 1:00 pm, followed by a book signing.
Even if you can’t make it to The Carle this weekend, you should definitely take this opportunity to reserve yourself an autographed copy of one of his books! Click here to pre-order by Saturday, February 18th.
We Are The Ship (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2008) is a true masterpiece. It chronicles the history of the Negro League Baseball from its creation by Rube Foster to finally the breaking of the long-standing color barrier in major league baseball by Jackie Robinson. The amazing oil paintings in the book feature action shots, team snapshots and individual portraits of players in the league, some well-known like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, while including many others not found in many history books.
Kadir Nelson put so much heart into the creation of this book. Inspired in part by a viewing of Ken Burns’s documentary, Baseball, Nelson set out to learn more about the history of baseball and its Negro Leagues. He spent 7 years researching every detail, from uniform colors and jersey numbers to players and ball fields of the time period. After reading interviews and listening to former players speak, Nelson realized this was a story that needed to be told in the voice of the player. He wrote the text of the book to be as if the player is directly speaking to the reader, creating a sense of warmth and closeness.
The oversized format of the book allows his stunning illustrations to shine, but it really could not fully prepare me for the experience of seeing the original paintings in real life. I was stunned when I stepped into the exhibition at The Carle for the first time and saw the size of the paintings (one measuring almost 6′ in length!), the vividness of the colors and realistic three-dimensional style of the faces. Up close you can see the clever plays with light and shadow, foreground and background, all the while paying homage to these trailblazing figures. It’s truly an emotional experience and one not to be missed.
Here is a wonderful video of Kadir Nelson talking about the creation of We Are The Ship, which in 209 won both a Coretta Scott King Award and Coretta Scott King Honor, as well as the Robert F. Siebert Medal:
For more information about the exhibit, here’s a wonderful article that ran today in the Amherst Bulletin. For baseball fans and fans of Kadir Nelson, we also have on exhibit a second gallery of Kadir Nelson artwork from his book about Jackie Robinson, written by Jackie’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, titled Testing the Ice. There’s a lot of great programming in store for this duration of these exhibits, including a second visit from Kadir Nelson, this time joined by Sharon Robinson and Scott Simon on April 1st, and a fun-filled baseball day this summer. We hope you can make it here the see the show!
The large book is the perfect format for Kadir Nelson’s astonishing pictures, which here highlight people through our nation’s history. Some of the forty-seven oil paintings are dark, some shine with hope: all are gorgeous, with shades of bronze and gold glowing throughout. The text gives an overview as if told by an old woman to the generation who’d be reading now, and suggests the faith, strength, and pride behind a forward movement. Politics are emphasized with wars, speeches, protests, and elections creating a main frame, while some illustrations of African Americans as musicians, innovators, athletes, and quilt-makers show a consistent allegiance to beauty. Peaceful change is highlighted, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being the one person we see twice, at the end in a two page spread. And there’s lots of sky, shown in its many colors.
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Want more recommendations from The Carle Bookshop? Click here to read for Top of the Shelf book reviews.
Tomorrow is Arbor Day and it’s a special day to really stop and appreciate the wonderful and beautiful things that we take often take for granted…trees! Whether you plant a new tree in your neighborhood or at school, study a field guide of leaves, or go for walk in the woods, take a few moments to share a love of trees with a child. Here are a few favorite picture books that do just that:
A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simon (Harper Collins, 1956)
A tree is nice all year round. You can play in its fallen leaves in the autumn and enjoy its cool shade in the summer heat. You can swing in its branches and eat its fruit. With a poetic simplicity, Udry’s text captures just why a tree is so nice and useful for all those things in life we might take for granted. Caldecott-winning art by Marc Simont perfectly mirrors the height and simple beauty of a tree with its tall and skinny book format. The book closes with the pride and enjoyment that comes from planting a tree. “Every day for years and years you watch the little tree grow. You say to people, ‘I planted that tree.’ They wish they had one so they go home and plant a tree too.”
With simple text and cheery watercolor and collage illustrations, Mary Newell DePalma explores the life cycle of a tree, throughout the seasons and over a span of many years. Truly a bright and beautiful book that explains even to the youngest audiences how everything in nature is connected.
A Log’s Life by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Robin Brickman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1997)
Similar to A Grand Old Tree, A Log’s Life shows how a tree is important to many creatures, even when the tree itself is no longer standing. By showing the process of decomposition and then a new seedling sprouting all the way back back to decomposing log, this book highlights the eternal and essential life cycle of nature. Robin Brickman’s cut-paper collage illustrations are amazing – like detailed dioramas that absolutely make this book come alive.
Redwoods by Jason Chin (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2009)
This book is a delightful mix of nonfiction facts about redwood trees and playful metafiction and fantasy. A boy reading a book about redwood tress on the subway ends up stepping out of the city and into a redwood forest to explore and discover these amazing trees. In a Jumanji-esque ending, he leaves the book on a park bench for another child to discover. The very book, the reader notices, that is in her own hands.
This well known picture books show the interconnectedness of the rainforest ecosystem and the importance of preserving it from deforestation. A logger set on cutting down a kapok tree, grows hot and tired in the heat and decides to rest before he finishes. One by one all the animals who depend on the tree for food, shelter and survival make their pleas to the logger not to cut it down.
Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler (Lee & Low Books, 2010)
Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster, 2010)
These two gorgeously illustrated and distinctly different picture books both tell the story of Dr. Wangari Maathai, the leader of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and the first African woman and environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari, also called Mama Miti (which means Mother of Trees) brought attention to the deforestation in her homeland by starting a widespread movement to plant and replace Mugumo trees which are essential to Kenya’s natural ecosystem. These two books are not only beautifully illustrated but also truly inspiring.
Beginning with a quote from Dr. Wangari Maathai, this book expands on the Green Belt Movement in Kenya to show families around the world planting trees and reaping the benefits – cleaner air, cool shade, food, with a place for animals to live and for children to play. With Bob Staake’s bright and colorful illustrations, this is a wonderful book to share with even the youngest readers.
There are so many terrific picture books that instill a love of trees in readers. What are you favorites? Share your suggestions with our readers in the comments below. Happy Arbor Day!