Books and Bricks

How a School Re­built the Com­mu­nity

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Middle Grade Books - PAL­LAS GATES MC­CORQUO­DALE JEFF FLEIS­CHER

Sindiwe Mag­ona, Cor­nelius Van Wright (Il­lus­tra­tor) Star Bright Books (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $8.99 (72pp), 978-1-59572-779-4

A pow­er­ful, up­lift­ing story, Books and Bricks em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of both com­mu­nity and ed­u­ca­tion.

Hav­ing her­self grown up in South Africa un­der the bru­tal racial in­equal­i­ties of apartheid, au­thor Sindiwe Mag­ona shares the in­spir­ing true story of one school’s trans­for­ma­tion in Books and Bricks: How a School Re­built the Com­mu­nity.

The voices of the street call out to the stu­dents of Manyano School, car­ry­ing tempt­ing of­fers: drop out and join the rev­elry! Such op­por­tu­ni­ties are ram­pant in Brown Veld Town­ship un­til one day a new voice comes along, of­fer­ing some­thing al­to­gether dif­fer­ent.

Eleven-year-old Salmina never misses a day of school. The build­ing may be crum­bling, with bro­ken glass in the yard and van­dals lurk­ing in the shad­ows, but it’s bet­ter than the fight­ing and hunger at home. Be­sides, her mother and teach­ers know that black chil­dren will be lead­ers one day, if only they re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion. When a se­ries of thefts robs the school of a price­less op­por­tu­nity, the com­mu­nity, led by a charis­matic new prin­ci­pal, bands to­gether in an ex­tra­or­di­nary way.

Salmina’s story is amaz­ing in its sim­plic­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness. When the prin­ci­pal, Mr. Wil­liams, in­vites par­ents to use the class­rooms and school­yard for projects and brain­storm­ing, many un­em­ployed fa­thers use the only skill they have—brick­mak­ing. Draw­ing from an ac­tual, award-win­ning pro­ject con­ducted in 1994 at Zer­ilda Park Pri­mary School in Cape Town, in­clud­ing the life of Dr. Al­lis­tair Wit­ten, the in­spi­ra­tion for Mr. Wil­liams, the book pro­vides in-depth de­tails of the pro­ject that has been cel­e­brated world­wide for its im­pact on poverty re­duc­tion and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

Black-and-white sketches from Cor­nelius Van Wright, cou­pled with a fun, rhyth­mic sprin­kling of slang, show­case South African cus­toms and cul­ture. A va­ri­ety of ap­pen­dices are in­cluded, both for clar­ity and fur­ther ex­plo­ration, from a glos­sary of Afrikaans words to maps of Africa, a bi­og­ra­phy of Nel­son Man­dela, and dis­cus­sion ques­tions ap­pro­pri­ate for sixth graders like Salmina.

A pow­er­ful, up­lift­ing story, Books and Bricks is a re­minder that “No na­tion can ad­vance or thrive if it does not make the ed­u­ca­tion of its chil­dren a pri­or­ity.” train to be an in­ven­tor; if not, she’ll be “sorted” into a math cur­ricu­lum in her home­town, where stu­dents are di­vided into spe­cific tracks.

Most of the book fo­cuses on the five stu­dents’ time at Camp Pied­mont and their as­sign­ments there. At times, the story gets side­tracked by young adult sta­ples that feel un­nec­es­sary here, such as a new sport the teams play at camp, or nods to a fu­tur­is­tic 2071 set­ting that don’t im­pact the main story much.

The ma­jor­ity of the story fo­cuses on the in­ter­play be­tween the chil­dren, though, as they use their myr­iad skills to de­velop both a win­ning idea and a pre­sen­ta­tion that will im­press the judges. De­spite all at­tend­ing the same school, the stu­dents barely know one an­other; this lends it­self well to themes of learn­ing to work as a team and over­com­ing first im­pres­sions.

At the same time, Kia learns more about her grand­mother’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the com­pe­ti­tion, and the Crim­son Five get an un­ex­pected ex­tra chal­lenge to over­come from an author­ity fig­ure. These plot lines make space for the au­di­ence to solve prob­lems along­side the char­ac­ters, teach­ing use­ful lessons about team­work, fam­ily, and for­give­ness.

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