A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brick by Brick tells the often-forgotten story that slaves built the White House. There's discussion of forced labor, the difficulty of life as a slave, and the raw emotions at play during this period of American history. Children will have questions about the institution of slavery and how it conflicts with the founding principles of this country. Parents should be prepared to offer age-appropriate details.
What's the story?
In 1792, a young country still recovering from the Revolutionary War cannot find enough laborers to build its new seat of power and turns to society's bottom rung, its slaves, to complete the task. Craftsmen teach slaves trades such as carpentry and cabinet making -- skills they can use to earn money to buy their freedom. While stirring emotions about the institution of slavery, the book also points to slavery's role in America's economy at that time.
Is it any good?
Brick by Brick is an inspiring story of perseverance, heartache, and hope told in simple, rhythmic, rhyming verse that echoes the Negro Spirituals of the era. Author Charles R. Smith, Jr. exposes the heartache and irony of a society that compels one group into forced labor while honing its founding ideals of freedom.
Floyd Cooper's evocative oil-wash paintings in a mostly brown-and-white palette have an emotional richness that draws readers of all ages into the story and offers plenty of opportunity for discussion. The book wisely focuses on this history of black slaves as a part of the creation of America rather than as a separate history. The slaves' struggles, pain, and oppression are an American tale of struggle, pain, and oppression.
Talk to your kids about ...
Have you ever seen movies or read other books about slavery? How do the movie versions compare with written accounts?
What can you learn from the pictures in the book? Can you imagine how the laborers felt?
How do you feel after learning that the White House was built by black slaves, now that there's a Black president living in the White House? What does that say about our country?
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love history and African-American books
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.