Brick – Who Found Herself in Architecture by Joshua David Stein, illustrated by Julia Rothman

By Maureen Tai, 14 September 2018

“Great things begin with small bricks” – Brick’s mother.

Brick is a small rectangular block the colour of a ripe persimmon. She’s a baby brick.

Cradled in the arms of her mother, she gazes up at towering skyscrapers. Brick is awed by what she sees, the possibilities of what she might one day become.  “Look around,” her mother gently coaxes, inviting not only Brick, but us readers as well, to cast our eyes on the structures that line the streets and the buildings that blend into the skyline.

Brick’s journey of self-discovery, and our journey to some of the most incredible architectural marvels in the world, are about to begin.

The first brick buildings that Brick lays her eyes on are large utilitarian structures such as the fire station, the schoolhouse and the post office.  As she grows older, wiser and more independent, she becomes aware of the rows and rows of apartments, office towers and warehouses, all made of brick, fanning out around her in warm shades of apricot, tangerine, pumpkin, butterscotch and caramel (feeling peckish yet?).  Brick’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she abandons her urban city for shores unknown. She sets off in a tiny sailing boat to find her place in the world, and she takes us with her.

Adventurous and fearless, Brick discovers wondrous structures – all made of bricks – illustrated with detailed accuracy and gorgeously coloured in delicate shades of orange.  She sees imposing castles, encased within thick walls.  She chances upon marvellous monuments of worship, decorated with many-faced gods or topped with swirling domes and minarets.  She walks among different brick homes, from modest, uniform single-storey bungalows to stately, slightly overwhelming apartment blocks.

But wait. This isn’t a picture book version of a Lonely Planet guide. This picture book is bigger than that. Brick reflects on all the brick edifices that she has encountered during her world travels. Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Russia, the Ark in Uzbekistan, the Mahabodhi Temple in India, among others. She is confused and lost.  What sort of brick is Brick meant to be? Where is Brick’s place in the world?

In a unique and charming way, accessible to even young readers, Brick asks the existential questions “Where do I belong? What do I want to be? ”  The answers remind me of the title of a book that I read when I was a lonely and lost university student many moons ago, entitled “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  You belong where you are, and you should be what makes you the happiest and the most fulfilled. Rather an uplifting and heartwarming conclusion, is it not?

For ages 7 and up.


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