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Brick by Brick


Coretta Scott King Award-winners Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper deliver the compelling story behind the building of the White House, a powerful part of history rarely taught. 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. With an insightful author's note and a list of selected resources, this book supports the Common Core State Standards.

Stirring and...

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Coretta Scott King Award-winners Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper deliver the compelling story behind the building of the White House, a powerful part of history rarely taught. 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. With an insightful author's note and a list of selected resources, this book supports the Common Core State Standards.

Stirring and emotional, Cooper's stunning 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 freedom after earning money from learning a trade speaks to the strength of those individuals. They created this iconic emblem of America, brick by brick.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Rebecca Traister
Evocatively illustrated by Floyd Cooper, Brick by Brick conveys hardship, suffering and the bloated avarice of the slaveholders who roll money between their unblemished fingertips…But Smith and Cooper also capture a majesty and pride in the new presidential residence.
Publishers Weekly
Two Coretta Scott King Award winners pool their substantial talents in a somber tribute to the slave laborers who helped build the White House. Smith (Stars in the Shadows) emphasizes the toll that the work takes on the slaves’ hands and bodies (“Slave hands swing axes/ twelve hours a day,/ but slave owners take/ slave hands’ pay”) and takes the time to give names to these “Nameless, faceless/ daughters and sons,” forgotten by history. In gauzy scenes dominated by a sepia palette, Cooper (These Hands) spotlights the laborers’ hands, but their faces—which project resilience, exhaustion, and even anger—have much to say, too. There’s a slight upswing in tone as Smith notes that the skills the slaves acquired opened new possibilities (“Skilled hands earn/ one shilling per day,/ reaching slave hands closer/ to freedom with pay”), but there’s little joy evident when the completed White House is unveiled. A grim reminder that in America’s early decades, freedom didn’t come cheap for many, and that our most venerated symbols, institutions, and forebears are not without flaws. Ages 5–8. Agent: Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Sharon M. Himsl
Slowly, slowly, "brick by brick," freedom is earned by African American slaves in this compelling story of slavery. It was the year of the nation's first president, and President George Washington needed a special home. Slave owners were hired to help build the nation's first White House, and they promptly ordered their slaves to work. "Black hands, white hands, free hands, slave hands," Smith Jr. writes, worked hard to build the mansion, but for the slaves alone, the labor was brutal, often painful, and always without pay. They toiled seven days a week, twelve hours a day, men and women together, young and old, under the slave owner's watchful eye. Some African Americans, however, learned a marketable skill or trade during enslavement and found ways to earn money—enough for many to buy their freedom. This is their story and the price they paid for that freedom. Names are real in Brick by Brick, and each face shows individual emotion. Yet Cooper's overall use of brown gives a sense of unity to their struggle. Youth will come away with admiration and respect for the slaves that helped build America. A helpful summary on the White House is included at the end. Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Kirkus Reviews
The White House is truly the people's house. From foundation to finish, many hands toiled to construct a home for the leader of the new country. Free men and slaves worked with stone, wood and brick, using hands that were both skilled and unskilled. Smith uses rhyming verse to tell their stories with words that are powerful and descriptive. They are constructed to be read aloud; performed, even. Cooper works in his signature palette of muted browns and yellows and succeeds admirably in depicting individualized faces filled with weariness and pride. The tedium of each step involved in the construction of the White House had more than one result. A beautiful building arose in Washington, D.C., only to be destroyed by the British in the War of 1812. Just as important, enslaved workers learned skills that brought in money that bought their freedom. By giving the slaves names, Smith elevates them from mere numbers to individuals determined to shape their lives for the better. "Month by month, / slave hands toil, / planting seeds of freedom / in fertile soil." An excellent title that provides an admirably accurate picture of slavery in America for younger readers. (author's note, selected resources) (Picture book. 4-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061920820
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/26/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 804,030
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

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 his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem "My People" and a Coretta Scott King Honor for his biography on Muhammad Ali, 12 Rounds to Glory. He is the author of Rimshots, Hoop Kings, Hoop Queens, Tall Tales, Short Takes, Diamond Life, and I Am America. Charles brings his love of basketball and baseball right down to the toddler set in Let's Play Basketball! and Let's Play Baseball! His recent work celebrates subjects he's been interested in since he was a kid, such as The Mighty 12, which honors Greek gods and goddesses. He currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, with his wife, Gillian, and their three kids.

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I Have Heard of a Land. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mr. Cooper received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and, after graduating, worked as an artist for a major greeting card company. In 1984, he came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books, and he now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013

    Beautiful book!

    Beautiful book!

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