Books and Bricks

How a School Rebuilt the Community

By Sindiwe Magona
In collaboration with Ellen Mayer
With an Afterword by Dr. Allistair Witten
Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

I’m thrilled to have helped create this middle grade book with renowned South African writer Sindiwe Magonavisionary education leader Dr. Allistair Witten, and award-winning illustrator Cornelius Van Wright.

Salmina’s school was a scary place. The fence around it had big holes and the yard was full of junk. No one wanted to play there – only vandals at night. Facing escalating levels of crime and vandalism on the school premises, the new principal decided that to save his school he needed to involve the community.

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.”

Foreword Reviews

Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year (2018)

Poverty is not invincible, a TEDxCapeTownWomen talk by Dr. Sindiwe Magona

To Order

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ISBN: 978-1-59572-779-4
Middle grade book, 72 pages
For ages 10-12

Published by Star Bright Books
Copyright © 2017, 2014 Sindiwe Magona
Illustrations copyright © 2017 Cornelius Van Wright
First published in South Africa by David Philip Publishers in 2014.

Sindiwe Magona and Ellen Mayer