Review of Build a House

Build a House Build a House
by Rhiannon Giddens ; illus. by Monica Mikai
Primary     Candlewick    40 pp.     g
10/22     978-1-5362-2252-4     $17.99

In near-singable text, musician Giddens (co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops band) brings to life a lyrical tale of Black trials, triumphs, determination, and home. A Black father, mother, and daughter ride in a horse-drawn wagon driven by a white man. The text begins: “You brought me here / To build your house…And grow your garden / Fine,” and then once the house is standing and the cotton ripens, the white man tells the family, “GO.” They build a house for themselves—“but you said I couldn’t / Build a house / And so you burnt it… / DOWN.” The family remains united and determined through these violent setbacks and makes music together, the mother playing banjo and the father violin, but white people even steal their song. Finally, they rebuild on their own land; the daughter becomes the narrator and echoes her parents’ words, now defiantly her own: “You brought me here / To build a house / And I will not be moved.” Mikai’s warm-toned digital illustrations, awash in blues, greens, and browns, portray the family members’ closeness to the land and their steadfast commitment to land ownership—also emphasized by the girl’s carrying a young sapling she’d planted from a seed everywhere they go. In the end, her tree’s leaves and branches span a joyous double-page spread. An afterword describes the story’s autobiographical roots (“I am proud to be a banjo-playing descendent of the Afro-Carolinians who, against all odds, made a culture and built a home and survived, so I could thrive”) and directs readers to an online recording performed with Yo-Yo Ma to commemorate Juneteenth.

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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