One-Minute Book Reviews

January 25, 2009

Jan the Hungarian Predicts … ‘We Are the Ship’ Will Win the 2009 Caldecott Medal

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 pm
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Update 10:48 a.m. Eastern Time: We Are the Ship has won the 2009 Robert F. Silbert Medal for “the most distinguished informational book for children” from the American Library Association.

The latest in a series of occasional posts that predict the winners of major book awards

A last-minute prediction from Jan the Hungarian, about 11 hours before the American Library Association announces the winners of its 2009 Newbery and Caldecott medals …

Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Hyperion, 88 pp., $18.99) will win the 2009 Caldecott.

I’ve held off on calling this one because the text of this nonfiction book has obvious factual and other errors that Kevin Baker noted in his review in the New York Times Book Review (and that I confirmed easily). But the Caldecott judges aren’t allowed to consider the text unless it interferes with the pictures, so Nelson has a get-out-of-jail free pass on that one. And We Are the Ship strikes me as this year’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the novel that got the 2008 Caldecott despite its own flawed text (in which, among other things, the young hero wrongly blamed himself for the death of his father and the book left the issue unresolved).

Consider this: A big advantage The Invention of Hugo Cabret had over other 2008 candidates was its novelty. Brian Selznick told its story alternately in words and black-and-white drawings, merging the picture- and chapter-book formats in a way that no book had done. We Are the Ship has a similar novelty going for it: The art consists of dozens of original oil paintings. (When was the last time you saw that in a children’s book?) Nelson also uses only first-person plural narration (“we” instead of “I”), which – although the judges aren’t supposed to consider it — is even rarer than oil paintings in picture books. So like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, We Are the Ship would be a defensible choice, if not the ideal one. And I’m guessing that tomorrow, as so often in the past, the ALA will favor safety over risk-taking.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Hmm, I don’t know – I haven’t read the book, but as a librarian (and one who purchases the children’s books for my collection), I would have a problem giving an award to a supposedly nonfiction book for kids with factual errors.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — January 26, 2009 @ 9:22 am | Reply

    • I’d have the same problem. So I’d favor an ALA rules change on this one (though the group has had the same policy for such a long time that I have little hope that it will occur). There might also be Texas teams in the book. I couldn’t find any obvious ones in the index but there are southern ones such as the Atlanta Black Crackers. I’m off to try to find the results …

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — January 26, 2009 @ 10:59 am | Reply

  2. Seeing that it won the Sibert is an even bigger surprise. I knew it was a shoe-in for King awards.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — January 26, 2009 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

    • That was my feeling, too. Shouldn’t we expect scrupulous accuracy in a Sibert winner?

      I am going to say more about We Are the Ship very soon. (I’ve written the review and would normally post it Saturday but don’t know if I can wait that long.) Question: Would a baseplayer from the early decades of the 20th century say, “The man was awesome”?

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — January 26, 2009 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

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