Great Illustrated Books

Henry's Freedom Box

By Ellen Levine, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Scholastic Press, 2007
Pages : 40
Suggested Ages: 7 and Up
ISBN: 9780439777339

The first page of this eloquent picture book will stun readers and listeners of all ages. Look at the handsome full-page painting of a somber young African American boy, barefoot, sitting on an upturned wooden barrel, his back against a brick wall. The text on the facing page states, simply, “Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.” On his deathbed, the master gives Henry over to his son to work in his tobacco factory. Henry later marries a woman named Nancy and they have three children. After his wife and children are sold at the slave market, the grieving man makes a bold plan to free himself. He asks his friend James and Dr. Smith, a white abolitionist, to help pack him into a large wooden crate. They mail him from Richmond, Virginia to the doctor's friend in Philadelphia, 350 miles away. This dramatic story is all the more astounding because it is, essentially, true. After 27 hours of travel in the crate, some of it upside down, Henry "Box" Brown arrived in Philadelphia safe and sound on March 30, 1849, and became famous in the U.S. and abroad as the first person to successfully mail himself to freedom. Kadir Nelson’s unforgettable paintings, which won him a Caldecott Honor, are breathtaking, heartbreaking, and ultimately, hopeful.

It’s not easy to explain the reality of slavery to children of all ages, but this book does it with eloquence and heart. There's a chapter about Henry Brown in Virginia Hamilton's history book, Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom. Also share Emily Arnold McCully's eye-opening picture book, The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. Scholastic, 2007. ISBN-13: 9780439023443

Fradin, Dennis Brindell. Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves. Clarion, 2000. ISBN-13: 9780395970171

Hamilton, Virginia. Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom. Knopf, 1993. ISBN-13: 9780679879367

Hamilton, Virginia. The People Could Fly: The Picture Book. Knopf, 2004. ISBN-13: 9780375845536

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Knopf, 1993. ISBN-13: 9780679874720

Johnson, Dolores. Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family. Macmillan, 1993. ISBN-13: 9780027476996

McCully, Emily Arnold. The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom. Farrar, 2007. ISBN-13: 9780374322250

Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. Almost to Freedom. Carolrhoda, 2003. ISBN-13: 9781575053424

Ringgold, Faith. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. Crown, 1992. ISBN-13: 9780517885437

Tingle, Tim. Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom. Cinco Puntos, 2006. ISBN-13: 9780938317777

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Illus. by Kadir Nelson. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2006. ISBN-13:

Winter, Jeannette. Follow the Drinking Gourd. Knopf, 1989. ISBN-13: 9780679819974

Critics have said

"These powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story."
Publishers Weekly

"Nelson's illustrations, always powerful and nuanced, depict the evolution of a self-possessed child into a determined and fearless young man."
Catherine Threadgill, School Library Journal

"Although the cruelties of slavery and the sad events of Henry's life may prove too intense for the youngest readers, grade-schoolers with some knowledge of American history will thrill to this astonishing tale of bravery, ingenuity, and the indomitable strength of the human spirit."
Barnes & Noble

"Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved."
Kirkus Reviews