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Brick by Brick Hardcover – December 26, 2012


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad (December 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061920827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061920820
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 9.5 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #701,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning children's book author, photographer and poet with over 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 Author Award for his biography on Muhammad Ali, "Twelve Rounds to Glory." Many of his books have also garnered reluctant reader awards, proving that kids that don't like to read, do like to read his books.

Charles combines his passions of writing and photography with a variety of subjects that spark his interest. Even though his early books such as "Rimshots", "Hoop Kings" and "Hoop Queens focus on basketball, Charles has shown the ability to apply his talents to a variety of subjects, including diversity with "I Am America" and "I Am the World", Greek mythology with "The Mighty 12", how slaves built the White House with "Brick by Brick" and Negro League baseball with "Stars in the Shadows" to name a few. His poetry has also been used to paint unique biographical portraits of personal heroes such as the aforementioned Ali, boxer Jack Johnson and soon, guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Of the distinctive niche Charles fills with his books, he notes, "I want to show students, particularly boys, that there are many ways to pursue their interests, no matter what they may be."

To hear excerpts from his books and learn more about Charles R. Smith Jr, visit his website at www.charlesrsmithjr.com

Customer Reviews

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Brick by Brick is both beautifully written and illustrated.
sasmama
Cooper depicts these faces, mostly slaves but a few masters, with a kind of softened realism and with great feeling and character.
Kate Coombs
Smith's poetry sometimes stands second to his writing, if that makes any sense.
E. R. Bird

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kate Coombs VINE VOICE on January 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Did you know that some of the workers who built the first White House were slaves? This book is their story. The slaves were rented out by their masters for the project.

Black hands,
white hands,
free hands,
slave hands.

Slave hands dig,
saw,
and break stone,
laying the foundation
for the president's house.

Smith describes these events poetically, in simple, strong language like the sound of hammers striking stone. The lines rhyme occasionally for emphasis, but not throughout:

Slave hands saw
twelve hours a day,
but slave owners take
slave hands' pay.

Floyd Cooper's illustrations are done mostly in shades of brown, with a blue sky every so often that makes me think of hope. Sometimes the faces in children's book illustration are simple or cute, but not in Brick by Brick. Cooper depicts these faces, mostly slaves but a few masters, with a kind of softened realism and with great feeling and character. I'm not sure how the illustrations were done--perhaps with watercolor washes and then colored pencil on textured paper. This is a very lovely book, and one filled with understated yet powerful emotions.

We read that in time, the slaves learned skills that qualified them to be paid one shilling a day. They saved the money towards buying their freedom:

Slave hands count shillings
with worn fingertips
and purchase freedom
earned brick by brick.

By the time you reach the last page, you know something important: The president's home is beautiful, but it is not as beautiful as the promise of freedom.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carol Ann on January 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Yes!!! Another book illlustrated by my favorite artist from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The story subject is also dramatic and moving. Just think of all the work by hands that went into construction before large machinery.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By sasmama on January 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Brick by Brick is both beautifully written and illustrated. I had no idea how the White House was built! This has prompted some great discussions with my children. A winner!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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. If anything came up about post-Revolutionary War America it was a pretty dry recitation of more white people doing whatever it was that they did. So for me the recent bumper crop of children's books seeking to undo some of this damage is positively heady. Whether it's works of historical fiction based in fact like "Chains" by Laurie Halse Anderson and "Jefferson's Sons" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, or fascinating works of nonfiction like "Master George's People" by Marfe Ferguson Delano, we live in an era where kids can get a fuller, if not entirely complete, look at what has typically been a whitewashed era in their history books. For the younger sorts we have, "Brick by Brick", a book that shines a light on something that I'm not even sure my own second grade teacher even knew, back in the day. Doesn't hurt matters any that it's gorgeous to boot.

"Under a hazy, / hot summer sun, / many hands work / together as one." The time has come for the President of the United States of America to have a home to live in. So it is that white workers and free black workers are joined by slave labor to get the job done. In highlighting their work, poet and author Charles R. Smith Jr. focuses squarely on the hands of the laborers.
Read more ›
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cindy on August 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I feel that this book promotes resentment, not reconciliation.
Instead, why not pass along to the next generations messages of healing, unity, and forgiveness?
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