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19 May 2012 THE HOUSE THAT GEORGE BUILT by Suzanne Slade and Rebecca Bond, ill. Charlesbridge, May 2012, 32p., ISBN: 978-1-58089-262-9


“Our house it has a crowd

There’s always something happening

And it’s usually quite loud”

-- Madness, “Our House”


“Stoneworkers carved flowers, leaves, and ribbons in the soft sandstone.  Then the stone was painted with a thick sealer made of water, lime, salt, glue, and ground-up rice, which turned the house white.”


“This is the stone,

that was chiseled and honed,

that went over the brick,

that was baked strong and thick,

that was laid on the foundation,

that was dug for our nation,

that held the design,

that would stand for all time,

that was drawn for the lot,

that grand, scenic spot,

for the President’s House

that George built.”


I loved all that time I spent working on the residential construction sites while I was growing up.  Plumbing was my childhood trade.  Since then, I designed and helped build the two residences in which I have lived most of my adulthood.  And so it is probably not surprising that I am fascinated by this really fun picture book story about the siting and construction of the most famous residence in America.


Growing up in the sixties on Long Island, I saw so much transformation.  As a result, I’ve often stood somewhere and imagined what an area had looked like before it was developed.  It’s a really interesting activity.  Try it!  Go outside right now.  Imagine that whatever roads and buildings are there are suddenly not there.  Imagine grass and trees and openness or whatever the natural terrain is. 


That’s one of the things that happen in this true story which takes its structure from the British cumulative tale “The House that Jack Built.” 


I’ve been in Washington D.C. a number of times, always walking past the White House, of course, but I have never imagined what the land upon which that house is built would have looked like back in the 1700s when it was primo riverfront real estate.  I really like how this beauty is portrayed in the story.


And, of course, by thinking about what is going on in the story, we get a great sense of the similarities and differences in construction between the late 1700s and today.  So much is still the same: You find a piece of property; design a house that fits with that property; survey and stake it out; dig for the foundation and/or basement; and then start building up.  Of course, nowadays, you don’t have hundreds of workers living on site and setting up brick kilns there.  Nor do you have slaves laboring amongst the workers.


I love how Rebecca Bond’s pen and watercolor illustrations turn this historic construction site into a thing of beauty.  One can really see through the illustrations why George Washington thought this the perfect piece of real estate upon which the nation’s First House should be built.


I guess it’s in my blood: It all gets me thinking about the possibility of my someday building another house.


Richie Partington

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/


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