Review: Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens

Posted February 18, 2023 by Richetta in Book Reviews, Children's Books / 0 Comments

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Review: Build a House by Rhiannon GiddensBuild a House by Rhiannon Giddens
Published by Candlewick Press on October 11, 2022
Genres: Juvenile Fiction / Historical / United States / General, Juvenile Fiction / People & Places / United States / African American & Black, Juvenile Fiction / Social Themes / Prejudice & Racism
Pages: 40

Grammy Award winner Rhiannon Giddens celebrates Black history and culture in her unflinching, uplifting, and gorgeously illustrated picture book debut.

I learned your words and wrote my song. I put my story down.

As an acclaimed musician, singer, songwriter, and cofounder of the traditional African American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens has long used her art to mine America’s musical past and manifest its future, passionately recovering lost voices and reconstructing a nation’s musical heritage. Written as a song to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth—which was originally performed with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma—and paired here with bold illustrations by painter Monica Mikai, Build a House tells the moving story of a people who would not be moved and the music that sustained them. Steeped in sorrow and joy, resilience and resolve, turmoil and transcendence, this dramatic debut offers a proud view of history and a vital message for readers of all ages: honor your heritage, express your truth, and let your voice soar, even—or perhaps especially—when your heart is heaviest.

Also by this author: We Could Fly

Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens and illustrated by Monica Mikai is a lyrical book about the triumphs and tribulations embedded in the history of Black people in the United States. The story illustrates the journey of a family from when they are enslaved to when they are freed and then to the challenges they face once they are trying to build a life as free people. Throughout their journey the family finds ways to embrace joy, even when it seems the world is intent on stealing it from them.

I love that the words in the book are actually a song that can be sung as you read it aloud to your children. I recommend looking up the Rhiannon Giddens performance of it with Yo-Yo Ma. There are directions on how to access it at the back of the book.


The illustrations in Build A House are beautiful and show both the joy and sorrows of Black people during the time of slavery and immediately after when they were trying to reestablish their lives in freedom. My favorite character to visually follow in the book is the little girl. When the family’s home is burned, you see her sadness, but not on the same level as the parents. With the parents it is evident that they are worried and upset. But their daughter is only sad for a moment and then she gets to continue being a child. I love that depiction so much. Because childhood is something that can so easily be stolen.

Lear more about the author at

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