Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Building America

Building America

Janice Weaver
Illustrator:  Bonnie Shemie 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 10 and up
Tundra Books, 2002   ISBN: 978-0887766060

As you travel around the United States you might notice that the style of architecture that you see varies a great deal. Some houses have heavy ornamentation while others are very plain. Some large buildings clearly have Greek or Roman features while others have a Baroque look to them. Why are there so many styles of architecture, and what influenced the architects and builders to choose these styles?

In this book you will discover how the history of America influenced its architecture. The author begins by looking at the buildings that the first colonists to America built. She explains how these early arrivals had to build something quickly and how they had to make use of the materials that were available in their area. Hence many of the houses were simple and utilitarian. When they could these settlers often brought “the building traditions of their former homes” with them. The Dutch in New Amsterdam (New York City today) favored building houses that were built with brick and had gabled ends and steep roofs. In the south Spanish settlers learned a great deal from the local native tribes and built homes that would stay cool during the hot summers.

As time passed and the colonies prospered, the building styles used in America became more “sophisticated.” The homes and public buildings became more ornamented and solid. In the years during and after the Revolution architects and builders were particularly fond of having elements in their buildings that were Greek or Roman in appearance. They wanted to express their fervor for “democratic ideals” in their work.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution American architects once again looked to Europe for inspiration. Gothic revival, Renaissance revival, and Romanesque revival buildings were built. And so it continued, with wars, changing social situations, and economic booms and busts greatly affecting the ways in which people built their homes and gathering places.

This gorgeously illustrated title tells a fascinating story, and anyone who has wondered about the buildings around them will learn a great deal as they read the text. For each stage in this story of America’s architectural history Bonnie Shemie has created drawings of buildings which best typify that stage. They include private homes, places of worship, commercial buildings, and public buildings. Each illustration is accompanied by a fact filled annotation. Some of the buildings will be familiar; for example Monticello, the Unites States Capitol, and the Chrysler Building. Many others will be unfamiliar and readers may discover that one or two of them are not very far from where they live. Perhaps they will even visit them one day.