Interview with Brick Who Found Herself in Architecture author Joshua David Stein

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Joshua David Stein is the editor-at-large at Fatherly and the author of both children’s and adult books. His work has appeared in everything from the New York Times, to The Guardian, to Eater, to New York Magazine, to Esquire. We sat down to talk with him about his children’s book, featured as part of the Big Build activities on October 13.

NBM Online: How did you first get involved with writing children’s books?

Joshua David Stein: For many years I was, and still am, a food writer. When my eldest son Achilles was around three or four, he revealed himself to be an extremely picky eater. Like many parents, I found that dinnertime turned into a battle. I wrote my first children’s book, Can I Eat That?, as a way to talk about food with my son in a non-pedantic low pressure way. By using wordplay and jokes, food became a much less loaded subject. He still only ate bread and shrimp but at least we could laugh about eating jelly, fish, and jellyfish.

NBM: What inspired you to write a story from the perspective of a little brick?

JDS: Again I have to thank Achilles from whom the concept flowed. One day he observed how funny it was that small bricks made the imposing buildings he passed on his way to school. (He did not say imposing.) That got me thinking about how a child might internalize—and be empowered by—the motion of both being a part of a larger project, of finding one’s place in the world.

But as I wrote the story, I also felt it was important to be true to myself and that meant to include, in a non-aggressive way, elements of Buddhism, to at least hint at ideas of impermanence and the path of the bodhisattva, someone who works for the benefit of all living creatures. Architecture, like all compounded things, eventually breaks down. The challenge of Brick—and let’s face it, life—is to understand and appreciate this impermanence.

NBM: How did you pick and research the locations the character Brick visits?

JDS: Thankfully Phaidon publishes great architecture books like Brick, a survey of brick structures around the world. That was a good start. Then I triangulated what genre of building I wanted Brick to visit (castle, church, wall, home) with significant and interesting examples.

NBM: Were there challenges in making architecture accessible for kids?

JDS: Since kids are literally surrounded by architecture, sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to notice it…so the first step is to get them to look up and realize someone made all of these buildings around them, someone, who was once a kid, thought them up and designed them.

The second challenge, as in most instances, is to connect them to the subject matter. How do they relate or fit in to this abstract concept of architecture? The answer happily is that of all the arts, architecture is perhaps the least abstract. Often it is literally concrete!

NBM: What lessons about the built environment can kids (or adults) learn from this story?

JDS: Besides being exposed to the vast and wondrous world of buildings, I suppose the essential lesson is of impermanence. I don’t drill down too hard on it but that is the jewel of wisdom of Brick. Brick goes through the journey we all do, hopefully, of realizing our place in the world, that the world is impermanent and that a worthy mission is to work toward the benefit of all creatures.

NBM: What do you find most rewarding about writing children’s books?

JDS: Kids haven’t learned yet to mask their emotions so to watch a child get joy from reading something I helped bring into this world is, by far, the best part of my day every time it happens. It’s almost tangible and so pure!

Meet Joshua David Stein and listen to a reading of the book Brick Who Found Herself in Architecture at the Big Build on October 13.