Kid Lit Review of “Build a House” by Rhiannon Giddens

The author, Rhiannon Giddens, is a Grammy Award-winning musician, singer, songwriter, and MacArthur Fellow, among her other accomplishments. The words to this book – originally performed as a song with cellist Yo-Yo Ma – were written in 2020 to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth Day.

Juneteenth Day is a holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States – the oldest known such celebration in the country. On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas and announced the end of the Civil War and freedom for Black slaves. This is the first time that some slaves heard the news, and the first time it was delivered to all the people of Texas with the imprimatur of the Federal Government.

Giddens’ poetry/song is illustrated in bright colors by Monica Mikai. A family of slaves, used, abused, and cast out, survives to build a house of their own and write their own songs. “I learned your words and wrote my song. I put my story down.” As the author indicates in her Afterword, the song speaks about both the worst and best things about being human.

The Author’s Note concludes: “I am proud to be a banjo-playing descendant of the Afro-Carolinians who, against all the odds, made a culture and built a home and survived, so I could thrive.”

A scannable QR code at the end of the book allows readers to hear the afore-mentioned performance of “Build a House” by Rhiannon Giddens, who sings and plays the banjo, and features Yo-Yo Ma on cello. You might not think those two instruments would go together well, but in fact the ways in which they complement each other will surprise you.

Rhiannon Giddens and Yo-Yo Ma

Evaluation: The beautiful poetry of this book amounts to a manifesto filled with determination, perseverance, hope, and ultimately triumph. The words are both beautiful and powerful, as well as inspirational.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick, 2022

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