BCCB (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

SLADE, SUZANNE With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School; illus. by Nicole Tadgell. Whitman, 2014 [32p]
ISBN 978-0-8075-0897-8 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys
R 6-9 yrs

Former slave Booker T. Washington’s childhood and single-minded quest for an education has been the subject of several picture-book biographies, but here Slade highlights a precise episode in Washington’s later life, when he arrived at Tuskegee, Alabama as an educator and discovered he had no proper building in which to teach. The leaky wooden edifice, crammed with students, needed to be replaced with a sturdy brick building, but there were no bricks and no money with which to buy them. The solution, so obvious to Washington but so trying for his students, was to make their own bricks. This required digging deep for Alabama clay, mixing it with mud and straw, molding it, and firing the bricks in a homemade kiln. The first batch of thousands of bricks were lost to a faulty kiln, as was the next batch, and the next. At this point, Washington knew a proper kiln was required, and he sold his own precious gold watch for it. The bricks were fired, the first of many build- ings was erected, and the rest is Tuskegee Institute history. Slade supplies enough background on Washington’s childhood to provide context but keeps the focus mostly on this single event, putting further information on the institute itself into closing notes. Tadgell’s watercolor illustrations are literal enough to offer viewers a sense of place and process, while a recurrent rainbow theme—most effectively used to illuminate Washington’s features as he teaches under an umbrella in a rainstorm—reminds them of the elusiveness of Washington’s dream. Quotation sources and a short bibliography are included. EB