May 18, 2020

Brick by Brick

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Author-illustrator Heidi Woodward Sheffield’s wonderfully detailed and brilliantly colored collages burst off the pages of Brick by Brick, her first picture book.

From his window high up in a brick apartment building, Luis gazes and waits for his Papi to return. Scraps of lace and fabric embroidered or printed with plaids and stripes festoon the windows. The little boy’s Papi is a bricklayer, with strong arms “like stone,” good for lifting little boys onto shoulders. In first-person narration, Luis draws parallels between his Papi’s work and his own daily school routine. While his Papi builds tall buildings one brick at a time, Luis learns “book by book.” Papi uses a level, slaps on the mortar and scrapes off the excess. At school, Luis pats and rolls clay to make a tiny dog and a little house.

As Luis works, he dreams of having “nuestra casa para siempre,” an “always house” for him and his family, with space for his mother to have a garden and for him to have the dog he dreams of. Whether they are working on sky-high scaffolding or climbing playground equipment at recess, neither Luis nor his Papi are afraid of heights—and neither is afraid to dream or to work hard to achieve their goals. Their story builds to “una sorpresa,” which is to say, a surprise.

Sheffield masterfully pairs her heavily textured, layered illustrations with language that is rich and pulls out sensory details that make Brick by Brick an excellent choice for reading aloud. A mortar mixer whirrrrrrrs as Papi scrrrrapes away excess mortar; the “kerchunk” of Papi’s lunch box is especially satisfying. Sheffield’s mixed media collages, which incorporate photographs, create a vibrant and lively cacophony that overflows with bold color, chunky shapes and friendly faces, welcoming readers immediately into Luis’ world. Luis’ sweet, plainspoken narration will endear him to readers immediately, making the surprise awaiting him at the end of the story feel like a triumph.

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