In a closing author’s note essential to a clear understanding of the story, Smith explains that when America was a new country and the president was in need of a residence, there were not enough workers. So the government sought slaves. Rented as property, / slave hands labor / as diggers of stone, / sawyers, / and bricklayers. At times, the rhymed verse sustains a cadence that echoes that of swinging axes; other times, the rhythm is a bit clunky, and the slant rhyme feels unintentional. Rising above these issues is Cooper’s muted but powerful illustrations, which convey the enormity of the task as well as the strength, dignity, and pride with which the slaves approached their work. Despite being in chains, several of the enslaved workers appear to be singing. With each turn of the page, the slave hands gain new skills, which ultimately earn them money to buy their freedom. This is a story that deserves to be told, courtesy of a duo of Coretta Scott King Award winners. Grades 2-4. --Austin, Patricia
From the Back Cover
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 House was created by many hands, several of them slaves', who will be remembered throughout history for their extraordinary feat. Many slaves were able to purchase their freedom after earning money from learning a trade through this work, which speaks to their unbelievable strength. The title reflects how this towering symbol of America was created by hand, human hands, working toward their freedom, brick by brick.