Brick by Brick

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Brick by Brick Book Poster Image
Inspiring tale of enslaved workers building the White House.

Parents say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Adds to multileveled view of slavery in America by showing how slavery touched every part of U.S. life -- including a treasured monument. By teaching children the history of enslaved workers building the White House, the book offers an opportunity to deepen understanding of this period of U.S. history beyond traditional, sanitized images of farm and plantation work and period costumes.

Positive Messages

It's difficult to associate a positive message when thinking of America's dark past of slavery, however, Brick by Brick's overarching message is that even while enslaved, Black Americans played an invaluable role in the creation of the country. Reflects parallel hopes and opportunities of enslaved people and the nation: The American Dream is rooted in belief that any citizen can achieve socioeconomic success through hard work and opportunity. Many enslaved people were able to buy their freedom with money they earned using the specialized skills they acquired while working on the White House.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The enslaved workers are seen toiling throughout the book, many focused on buying their freedom. Their skill and perseverance make them inspiring role models.

Violence & Scariness

An overseer with a gun guards enslaved workers swinging axes to prepare the construction site. The text notes, "Slave hands bleed / under a hot, hazy sun."


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brick by Brick tells the often forgotten story that enslaved workers built the White House. There's discussion of forced labor, the difficulty of life as an enslaved person, 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHEAVEN M. December 12, 2017

I think its ok

I think this is an very intertaining book for your kids

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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. It turns to society's bottom rung, its enslaved people, to complete the task. Craftspeople teach them trades such as carpentry and cabinet making -- skills these workers can use to earn money to buy their freedom. While stirring emotions about the institution of slavery, BRICK BY BRICK 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 enslaved Black people as a part of the creation of America rather than as a separate history. The enslaved workers' 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 enslaved Black workers built the White House, where eventually a Black president would live? What does that say about our country?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and African American books

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