Freedom Song: The Story of Henry "Box" Brown

Overview

Henry “Box” Brown’s ingenious escape from slavery is celebrated for its daring and originality. Throughout his life, Henry was fortified by music, family, and a dream of freedom. When he seemed to lose everything, he forged these elements into the song that sustained him through the careful planning and execution of his perilous journey to the North.

Honoring Henry’s determination and courage, Sibert Medal–winning author Sally M. Walker weaves a lyrical, moving story of the ...

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Overview

Henry “Box” Brown’s ingenious escape from slavery is celebrated for its daring and originality. Throughout his life, Henry was fortified by music, family, and a dream of freedom. When he seemed to lose everything, he forged these elements into the song that sustained him through the careful planning and execution of his perilous journey to the North.

Honoring Henry’s determination and courage, Sibert Medal–winning author Sally M. Walker weaves a lyrical, moving story of the human spirit. And in nuanced illustrations, Sean Qualls captures the moments of strength, despair, and gratitude that highlight the remarkable story of a man determined to be free.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a loose, poetic narrative tracing the life of Henry Brown, a Virginia slave who mailed himself to freedom, Walker (Blizzard of Glass) underscores what song meant to Henry. Working in the cotton fields, “he sang his workday song. Its lift, tote, toss-the-sack words sent strength to his arms.” Most dear to him is his “freedom song,” which “soothed Henry’s greatest fear” that he would be separated from his family. Years later, Henry is devastated when their master sells off his wife and young children. Encouraged by his freedom song and the hope that there were “folks in freedom-land” who could help him locate his family, Henry enlists the aid of a white shopkeeper to execute his daring escape. Dominated by subdued blues and browns, Qualls’s (Giant Steps to Change the World) artwork exudes his familiar folk art–like quality, with floating circles of various colors and patterns serving as a visual metaphor for the hope Henry’s song represents. Excerpts from a letter written by the Philadelphia abolitionist who received Henry’s box lend a haunting veracity to this harrowing account. Ages 4–8. Author and illustrator’s agent: Writers House. (Jan.)
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
Poetic
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books
Poetic
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
Poetic
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Poetic
Children's Literature - Emily Griffin
Henry "Box" Brown was a slave from southern Virginia who escaped to Philadelphia as an adult by shipping himself in a box. This remarkable true story, explained fully in an author's note, is beautifully told in this picture book by Sally M. Walker and illustrator Sean Qualls. Walker uses lyrical, and at sometimes colloquial, language to show Henry Brown grow from a newborn baby to an adult man with a wife and children of his own, emphasizing his love of song to help him and those around him persevere and find moments of joy in their plantation lives. Qualls, who won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Before John Was a Jazz Giant, uses mixed media illustrations (textured paintings and collage), predominantly in tones of blues and browns, to capture the joy and suffering in Brown's life. A good selection for Black History Month or to use in discussions about slavery. Reviewer: Emily Griffin
School Library Journal
Gr 1–3—Brown is famous as a slave who had himself packed into a wooden box and shipped from Virginia to freedom in Pennsylvania. His story has been told by Virginia Hamilton in Many Thousand Gone (Knopf, 1993) and in Ellen Levine's Henry's Freedom Box (Scholastic, 2007). After discovering that Brown sang in his church choir, Walker took a different approach and built her story around the man's love of music. She imagines him as a child, surrounded by a loving family "even though they were slaves on Master's plantation," making up songs to help him through the toil of the day: a "workday song" in the fields, a "gather-up song" in the garden, then the "freedom song" he only can sing quietly at night. As an adult, Brown marries and is devastated when his wife's master sells her and their children. Inconsolable, he and a white man named Samuel Smith come up with the shipping plan. A letter from the man who receives the box describes how Brown came out of it and sang a hymn, a fitting finale to Walker's rhythmic text. Qualls's primitive-style collage illustrations strongly convey the depth of Brown's emotions.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Kirkus Reviews
When his wife and children are sold away, an enslaved man devises an extraordinary means of escape to the North and succeeds. Henry Brown worked in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Va. With the help of abolitionist friends, he built a box barely big enough for his large frame and mailed himself to Philadelphia and "freedom-land." Walker, winner of the Sibert Medal, captures the spirit and resolve of the man through her graceful writing and inclusion of songs of praise. She recounts his childhood, marriage to another slave and the fears, soon realized, that the family would be torn apart. Textured paintings and collage by Qualls express both the depth of Henry's love and the drama and ordeal of the journey, with dark shadows depicting the closeness of the box. Walker does change one fact. She has Henry cut his finger to get sent home prior to the escape. He actually used acid, as recounted in the award-winning Henry's Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (2007). Nonetheless, this stands as another excellent, accessible account of the harshness of slavery. An excerpted letter written by the recipient of Henry "Box" Brown is included. The desire to live free is powerful, and this story celebrates one man's amazing journey to achieve that end. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060583101
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/3/2012
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 680,707
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD570L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.10 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Sally M. Walker’s many award-winning books bring history and science alive for young readers. Her books include the Robert F. Sibert Medal winner Secrets Of A Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H. L. Hunley and the Revolutionary War story The 18 Penny Goose (an I Can Read Book). Ms. Walker lives in DeKalb, Illinois.

Sean Qualls is the Coretta Scott King Honor illustrator of Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane , by Carole Boston Weatherford. His art appears in many children’s books, including Little Cloud and Lady Wind, by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, and Giant Steps to Change the World, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. Mr. Qualls lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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