Build a House Book Review With Lesson Plans for Music

Integrate literature into the music class with these lesson plans for Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens and illustrated by Monica Mikai. This book is based on the song of the same name and is the story of what happened to enslaved Africans after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Review

Official Video of the Book and Song

NPR Book Interview with Rhiannon Giddens

This is a WONDERFUL interview and gives so many talking points for a teacher to bring to a lesson.

Rhiannon Giddens & Yo-Yo Ma Play “Build A House”

Breakdown-The Song

I can’t find sheet music anywhere! Hopefully, it will become available soon. The song is in C minor and has a pentatonic melody. You could transpose it to Dm and play the melody, but my best thought is to play along with the videos and use a drone-C and G. There is a feel of going to a V or V7 in places, but I don’t get the sense that it is necessary.

Because of the lovely flow of the melody and the beautiful repetition in the lyrics, children will quickly pick up the song to sing along.

Lesson Plan

  • Grades 4-6
  • Sing the book to the class
  • Discuss the historical parts that you want to discuss. Options are slavery, Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth, house burning, red-lining, song appropriation.
  • Discuss “The well will not run dry” and “I will not be moved.”
  • Sing the book again and add body percussion for the repetition. You can do a pat, clap, snap to every verse or create something different. There are NINE verses. You could divide students into 8 groups to represent each verse (except the last verse) with body percussion on the repeats. EVERYONE could come together on the last verse. It would be a very powerful, visual statement.

The repetitions include: Build your house, house and land, build my house, wrote my song, far and wide, lowered it down, etc.

  • Play along to the video with a C-G drone on barred instruments.
  • You could learn the song and play in Dm using that one chord on ukulele. If you wanted to add the V7, A7 is super easy on uke.
  • Further explore the last line of the book “I will not be moved” by singing the song and learning about its history and why Giddens may have decided to use it to end her book. (below)

Buy the Book

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I Will Not Be Moved

The reference in the book is taken from the old hymn turned social protest song also known as We Shall Not Be Moved. It is a statement of resolve and resiliency and such a strong way to end “Build a House.”

Experience this song with a presentation in both Google Slides and PPT versions, a simple Orff arrangement, and optional ukulele and recorder parts. Hear and see previews on TPT.

The Whitewashing of African American Roots Music

A BBC Radio 3-part series as Rhiannon uncovers

Part I: History and influence of North Carolina black fiddlers – Joe Thompson and Frank Johnson
Part II: History and influence of Kentucky banjo player Arnold Shultz. 
Part III: History and influence of African American ‘Harmonica Wizard’ DeFord Bailey, one of the biggest stars of the early country era.

Author: lbbartolomeo

I'm a mom, wife, teacher, reader, gardener, trekkie, sci-fi fanatic, musician, dog lover, and a Christian. I hope my contributions bring some joy and happiness to your life!

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