Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick9780061920820_p0_v1_s260x420Brick by Brick

Charles R. Smith Jr., Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Amistad an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Historical Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5- 9

Themes: Building the White House, Slave labor, Trade, Buying Freedom

Opening: “Under a hazy, hot summer sun, many hands work together as one.  The president of a new country needs a new home, so many hands work together as one. Black hands, white hands, free hands, slave hands.”

Synopsis: President George Washington needs a new house.  It took both skilled and unskilled free men and slaves working together to dig, break, chisel and transport stone to lay the foundation for the president’s home.  Even children worked with clay, sand and water to make the bricks. Hands are an important theme in the story because machinery didn’t exist. The laborers worked 12-hour days which was hard on their hands bodies.  The title of the book Brick by Brick highlights how the White House was built by hands.

Why I like this book: This book is a beautiful tribute to the laborers who worked under harsh conditions in the middle of nowhere to clear the forest in 1792 to build the president’s house. Charles R. Smith, Jr., beautifully captures the rhythm and power of the workers through rhyme. Throughout his poetic text, Smith scatters the first names of workers adding a sense of realism and dignity to the forgotten heroes in American history.  You have to love the power in his rhyme:

“Slave hands saw twelve hours a day,/ but slave owners take slave hands’ pay./ Slave hands bleed under a hot, hazy sun,/ slave hands toil until each day is done”.

“Slave hand learn/new trade skills/using chisels,/saws,/hammers,/and drills.”  “Skilled hands earn/one shilling per day,/reaching slave hands closer/to freedoms with pay.”

Although the conditions were horrible, many slaves were learning skills and trades brick by brick that eventually yields shillings that buy freedom for their families. And, they play and important part building the history of their country.  Floyd Cooper’s illustration evoke emotions of exhaustion, anger and pride. His illustrations are in soft brown and yellow colors that show uniformity and  match the mood of the era.  Great teamwork between Smith and Cooper who are both former Coretta Scott King Award winners.

Resources: The author includes a page at the end of the book about why slaves were used to build the White House, which was later burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814. Smith also includes resources for further study.  A good classroom activity would be to write  a story about one of the many characters in his illustrations. The facial expressions are so lively they speak to you. Visit Charles R. Smith Jr. at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

33 thoughts on “Brick by Brick

  1. Pat, On the eve of Washington’s birthday, this is a perfect selection. Like Cathy, I too am a huge fan of Floyd Cooper’s work. Was lucky enough to hear him speak at one of the NJSCBWI conferences.

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    • I reviewed this book last fall and decided to hold until President’s Day. Thought it would be a nice share and something a little bit different. You were lucky to hear Cooper speak at a NJSCBWI conference. I admire his work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You find some seriously awesome books, Pat! I am definitely going to check out this one. I love PB history books .

    By the way, do you prefer Pat or Patricia? I don’t want to keep calling you the wrong name. 🙂

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  3. I love that this is your President’s Day post–so important for kids to see that there are people who create the symbolic buildings around our government, and sounds like an approach that will help children get the injustice of slavery. Diamond Life, Charles R. Smith’s collection of baseball poetry, is a favorite at our house. I look forward to seeing his words in this picture book.

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    • Yes, I felt I was about to offer something about the history of the White House on President’s Day and the history around the slaves that built if for Black History Month. This is how so many slaves earned money to buy their freedom. Love Floyd Cooper’s illustrations.

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  4. Beautiful cover on this one. I love Floyd Cooper’s work. I haven’t read this but your description reminds me of Me and Mama and Big John by Mara Rockliff where the focus is on one brick of a cathedral. Brick by Brick is a good metaphor for life. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, I haven’t heard of this. How timely for your President Holiday. Beautiful illustrations. I loved hearing about the history of other countries so this was intriguing. Thanks for sharing Pat.

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