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Brick by Brick

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  149 ratings  ·  43 reviews
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.

In this powerful story of the building of the White House, Coretta Scott King Award winners Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper capture the emotion and toil that created this incredible structure, the home of our president. The White Hous
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published December 26th 2012 by Harper Collins
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Community Reviews

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I really didn't like this one. The rhyming text felt amateurish and almost reminiscent of Dr. Seuss without the humor, if that makes any sense. I believe a Booklist review called it "clunky". Yep. Terse. Repetitive, and not in a way that works. Like it wants to be shelved in the Easy Reader section. Just absolutely did not work for me.

I enjoyed the Author's Note more than the story. The rhyme scheme forced Smith to leave out interesting, educational details that only show up in the Note. Readers
The original White House in Washington, D.C. was built in the 1790s with the help of slaves rented from nearby plantations. The irony of the Founding Fathers who, in search of liberty and justice for all, utilized slaves to achieve it, is a subtle undercurrent in this poetic history of the construction of the new symbol of Free America.

Smith uses rhythmic repetition that focuses on the hard tasks of mixing mortar and spreading it; chiseling, carving, and transporting stone; and bleeding and blis
Alex Baugh
We see pictures of the White House everyday in newspapers, magazines, on televison. We use it as a metonym when we say the White House meaning the president and/or his staff. But how often do we think about how or by whom the White House was built.

Brick by Brick is about the first White House that was built for the new president of the United States, George Washington, back in 1792. It was a big job and required a lot of workers. Local workers were hired as well as free blacks, but when that wa
Cindy  H
Brick by Brick was written by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. This book contains rhymes and it is very poetic; therefore, I would say that this book is both a fictional book and poem at the same time. It uses it beautiful rhythmic text to tell a story of how the black men built the White House brick by brick in hopes for attaining their freedom. This book is very compelling because often times when people think of the White House, they think of the "Land of the Free" and " ...more
Mary Ann
With rhyming verse and moving illustrations, Smith and Cooper tell the story of how slaves were brought in to help construct the White House as a home for the president of our new country. The illustrations and rhythmic text convey the toil and struggle these men endured, but the overall tone balances these hardships with the pride workers felt and the skills they gained. "Month by month, / slave hands toil, / planting seeds of freedom / in fertile soil."
Marinna Bressel
This book is a story of how the White House was built. The home of our president was built by many hands, several of them slaves', who undertook this amazing achievement long before there were machines to do those same jobs. Many people don't take the time to think of who built the White House. The illustrations bring to life the faces of those who endured hard, brutal work when the profit of their labor was paid to the master, not the slave. The fact that many were able to purchase their freedo ...more
I am ashamed that I never really thought about who built The White House. This beautifully illustrated book, written in poetic form, does a wonderful job of describing how The White House was built using slaves.
A beautifully written story about the slaves who worked so hard to build the White House, brick by brick, while the slave owners took the slave hands pay. Written in poetic verse, with a couple recurring lines throughout, the language tells of the struggles and turmoil. Back matter includes why slaves were used to build the White House. Warm colored, yet heavy illustrations, that have a bit of a grainy texture, seem to exemplify the strain of those depicted, and the reader must strain a bit to t ...more
Smith, C. R. (2013). Brick by brick. New York, NY: Amistad.

Age/Grade Level: (Ages 4–8, Preschool, Grades K–3)

Workers were in short supply in 1792, the year the building of the White House was begun. Slaves were hired from their owners to help complete this monumental task. They dug, sawed, broke stone, and laid bricks for twelve hours a day. The result: a new home for the president of this new country.

Awards/Reviewing Sources:
Booklist (February 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 11))
Kirkus Reviews (
Abby Johnson
In almost-rhyming verse, Charles R. Smith Jr. presents the slaves who built the White House. I think the rhythmic verse does a lot to evoke the feelings that Smith is probably going for. He emphasizes how much back-breaking work it was to build the White House, that the slaves didn't get paid but their masters did, and how working on the White House increased some slaves' skills so that they might one day earn money to buy their freedom.

Accompanying illustrations are washed out, almost hazy, wh
Caryn Caldwell
The original White House was was so big that its construction required the help of local workers, immigrants, and even slaves, whose masters hired them out for five dollars a month. This book highlights the plight of the slaves, who didn't earn a penny for their help in clearing the forest, making the bricks, and carrying the stones. It was back-breaking work that did have one payoff in the end: some of those who stayed on were trained to do more detailed work, thus becoming specialists and fina ...more
Sometimes I feel like the older I get the more interesting history becomes. Not that history, real history, wasn't always fascinating. It's just that when I was a kid you couldn't have named a subject duller. And why not? Insofar as I knew, the history taught in my schools gave me the distinct impression that America was a country forged by white people and that folks of any other race would crop up occasionally in the textbooks to be slaves or to appear in internment camps or to suffer Jim Crow ...more
Bre Peoples
This book is about the building of the White House. It captures the feelings that the slaves who built it felt. This text outlines what happens well for younger students.

The illustrations are very powerful. The illustrations are done by paintings and drawing. The illustrations are full page and very realistic.
Sondra Eklund
The pictures in this book are wonderful. The story is important -- how slaves helped build the White House. I didn't like that it was told in rhyme -- because in many places the rhymes didn't quite work. It was also a little confusing. It says more than once that owners took the slave hands' pay. Then it starts saying they were earning their freedom. Based on the note at the back, I think once they learned skilled trades to help build the White House, they could earn money to buy their freedom. ...more
Amy Rachuba
Brings something new to the table with a poetic format and more information on the building of the original White House using slaves. Accessible to a younger audience.
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Rhythmic text tells the story of how slaves built the White House. The emphasis is on their hands as they cleared land and built a grand house in what was once a forest.

Illustrations are hazy yet clearly illustrate how hard the slaves worked. The illustration that sticks with me is that of the slave owners taking the slaves' pay. It evokes a deep feeling of disgust in me.

Overall, a great read aloud with an author's note following the story that provides more background information on this topi
Brenda Kahn
Learned about this one in last week's Non-fiction Monday gathering. Betsy Bird wrote about it. I have admired the author's work in the past. I adore the illustrator's work and when I spied the last copy at my local indie on Saturday, I snapped this baby right up. I can't say that I ever gave much thought to the White House and how it was built before reading The House That George Built by Suzanne Slade last October. I learned some other interesting tidbits as well, but found the overall effect a ...more
The pictures in this book are a fabulous portrait of history and the slave labor as part of what went into building the original White House for our American Nation. Through out giving name to nameless faces and hands as they participate to build more than just a building. I think this would make a good read for black history month and more.

*Thanks to HC for providing an ARC for review.*

This collaboration between two Coretta Scott King Award winners is marvelous. Told in rhyme, this true story about how slaves helped to build the first White House (it was burned down by the British in 1814) is essential history, presented artistically with deep feeling. I like how Smith includes stanzas of first names (Jerry/Jess/Charles/Len) in an attempt to give each man his due. Highly recommended; I'm sure it will show up in next year's award season.
Karen Arendt
This book is a story of how The White House was built with slaves. It more about slavery than the White House construction, however. The illustrations are detailed yet muted with plenty of browns and grays. Author's note at the end explains why he chose to focus on the slaves hands- because so much of the work done today by machines did not exist in the late 1700s when The White House was originally built.
Kris Odahowski
Younger children will be able to understand the story of Africans and African American contributions to the building of nation's capital with this lyrical writing of Charles R. Smith Jr. Cooper brings a warmth to his illustration which realistically portray the hand labor used at the time for building construction. This book is available for check out at the Gadsden County Public Library.
Feb 02, 2013 Dolly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
Using repetitive and rhyming poetry and big, colorful illustrations, this book explains how slaves helped to build the White House. The narrative is good, but is designed more to evoke feelings than to inform. We enjoyed reading the author's note that explains more about how and why the slaves were used in the construction. We enjoyed reading this book together.
Marianne Hatch
Powerful true story of the building of the white house by slaves. Coretta Scott King Award Winning Author Charles R. Smith Jr. depicts a very real intense story of the building of our nation. While Floyd Cooper's mixed media illustrations bring out the reality of the words. Great nonfiction picturebook that can be used with all ages.
One of the most valuable functions of picture books is to bring little known people, events and places to light. This is one of those books about American history which should be used at all levels. It provides much in a few pages. It is an important book, a powerful book.

My full review:
Ralf Urbach
Very empowering book telling the story of how slaves helped build the White House. This book uses wonderful rhythms and rhyming to help the reader get the feeling of what the slaves went through to become free. One of my favorite books and elemental for helping children learn a piece of history.(less)
This book received the Coretta Scott King award. I would suggest this book for young children pre-school up to about 2nd grade. This book could be used during a talk about slavery and what it was and how slaves worked or were treated. It could be used in a classroom during Black History month.
I agree with others - the illustrations are beautiful, the story is interesting, and the note at the end is informative, but why the clunky, Easy Reader verse? It's not poetic at all - I need this to be more informative for my students.
Ali Werner
I have not read this book yet but the multicultural looks of the book would be interesting to me and I would like to read it to my class. I know my students will come from different backgrounds and books are a great way to explain this.
Marie Lejeune
Maybe a 3.5...the poetry read awkwardly in spots, but the illustrations are wonderful (love Floyd Cooper) and the emotional impact of the words combined with the sepia tones pictures is powerful.
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Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning author, photographer, and poet with more than thirty books to his credit. His awards include a Coretta Scott King Award for illustration for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem "My People" and a Coretta Scott King Honor for his biography of Muhammad Ali, Twelve Rounds to Glory. He is the author of Rimshots, Hoop Kings, Hoop Queens, Tall Ta ...more
More about Charles R. Smith Jr....
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