A few years ago, I was talking with a writer who asked what stories I, as a second-grade teacher, wanted for my students. I told her my students loved stories about lesser-known figures in history, the "brave ordinary folks." Henry, of Henry's Freedom Box, is just the sort of person I had in mind. Henry "Box" Brown was one of the Underground Railroad's most famous runaways, but his story is an unfamiliar one for many modern students. Henry's Freedom Box, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, will change that. In 1849, a few months after his wife and children were sold away, Henry decided he was through with being a slave. Finding a large shipping crate, he came up with a plan to mail himself from Richmond, Virginia, to William Johnson, an abolitionist who lived in Philadelphia. Henry poured a bottle of oil of vitriol on his hand, causing an injury that meant he could not work for his master and, with the help of sympathetic white men, traveled 350 miles during 27 hours inside the box. Nelson's prodigious talent imagines what Henry must have endured while crammed inside the box and how he looked after the ordeal. Never shying away from the horrors of slavery, Levine's text dramatically portrays the pull of freedom. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Fall
Levine recounts the history of slave Henry "Box" Brown, who is mailed in a wooden box to Philadelphia and freedom. The powerful tale is told through direct, simple language, and a note explains the story's historical basis. The pencil, watercolor, and oil paint illustrations resonate with beauty and sorrow. There is no sugarcoating; however, the conclusion is moving and satisfying. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #2
In a true story that is both heartbreaking and joyful, Levine recounts the history of Henry "Box" Brown, born into slavery. Henry works in a tobacco factory, marries another slave, and fathers three children; but then his family is sold, and Henry realizes he will never see them again. With nothing to lose, Henry persuades his friend James and a sympathetic white man to mail him in a wooden box to Philadelphia and freedom. Levine maintains a dignified, measured tone, telling her powerful story through direct, simple language. A note at the end explains the historical basis for the fictionalized story. Accompanying Levine's fine, controlled telling are pencil, watercolor, and oil paint illustrations by Kadir Nelson that resonate with beauty and sorrow. When Henry's mother holds him as a child on her lap, they gaze out at bright autumn leaves, and the tenderness is palpable, even as she calls to his attention the leaves that "are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families." There is no sugarcoating here, and Henry is not miraculously reunited with his wife and children; however, the conclusion, as Henry celebrates his new freedom, is moving and satisfying. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 December #1
Nelson's powerful portraits add a majestic element to Levine's history-based tale of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who escaped by having himself mailed to freedom in a crate. Depicted as a solemn boy with an arresting gaze on the cover, Henry displays riveting presence in every successive scene, as he grows from child to adult, marries and is impelled to make his escape after seeing his beloved wife and children sold to slaveowners. 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, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton's Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993). (afterword, reading list) (Picture book. 8-10) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - August/September 2007
This picture book biography of Henry "Box" Brown introduces Henry as a boy who doesn't know how old he is because "slaves weren't allowed to know their birthdays." At a young age he is separated from his family when he is given to his master's brother. As an adult he loses his family again when his wife and children are sold. Wishing for the freedom the birds have, he decides to escape to a place where there are no slaves: Philadelphia. With the help of abolitionists, he mails himself in a wooden box. An author's note gives more details, and Kadir Nelson's paintings, done with crosshatched pencil lines, watercolors, and oils, give Ellen Levine's simple text beautiful detail and much of its emotion. The weighty subject matter (including a scene where Henry uses oil of vitriol to burn his skin to the bone so that he won't have to work on the day of his escape) makes this title more suitable for upper elementary students. This is a fresh choice for introducing the topic of slavery in the classroom. Recommended. Laurie Slagenwhite, Youth Services Librarian, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, Michigan © 2007 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 January #1
Levine (Freedom's Children ) recounts the true story of Henry Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom. Thanks to Nelson's (Ellington Was Not a Street ) penetrating portraits, readers will feel as if they can experience Henry's thoughts and feelings as he matures through unthinkable adversity. As a boy, separated from his mother, he goes to work in his new master's tobacco factory and eventually meets and marries another slave, with whom he has three children. In a heartwrenching scene depicted in a dramatically shaded pencil, watercolor and oil illustration, Henry watches as his familyâ€"suddenly sold in the slave marketâ€"disappears down the road. Henry then enlists the help of an abolitionist doctor and mails himself in a wooden crate "to a place where there are no slaves!" He travels by horse-drawn cart, steamboat and train before his box is delivered to the Philadelphia address of the doctor's friends on March 30, 1849. Alongside Henry's anguished thoughts en route, Nelson's clever cutaway images reveal the man in his cramped quarters (at times upside-down). A concluding note provides answers to questions that readers may wish had been integrated into the story line, such as where did Henry begin his journey? (Richmond, Va.); how long did it take? (27 hours). Readers never learn about Henry's life as a free manâ€"or, perhaps unavoidably, whether he was ever reunited with his family. Still, these powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)[Page 49]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 2-5-- Inspired by an actual 1830s lithograph, this beautifully crafted picture book briefly relates the story of Henry "Box" Brown's daring escape from slavery. Torn from his mother as a child, and then forcibly separated from his wife and children as an adult, a heartsick and desperate Brown conspired with abolitionists and successfully traveled north to Philadelphia in a packing crate. His journey took just over one full day, during which he was often sideways or upside down in a wooden crate large enough to hold him, but small enough not to betray its contents. The story ends with a reimagining of the lithograph that inspired it, in which Henry Brown emerges from his unhappy confinement--in every sense of the word--and smiles upon his arrival in a comfortable Pennsylvania parlor. Particularly considering the broad scope of Levine's otherwise well-written story, some of the ancillary "facts" related in her text are unnecessarily dubious; reports vary, for instance, as to whether the man who sealed Henry into the crate was a doctor or a cobbler. And, while the text places Henry's arrival on March 30, other sources claim March 24 or 25. Nelson's illustrations, always powerful and nuanced, depict the evolution of a self-possessed child into a determined and fearless young man. While some of the specifics are unfortunately questionable, this book solidly conveys the generalities of Henry Brown's story.--Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC[Page 176]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.