From the Publisher
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)
Kadir Nelson's hauntingly beautiful images for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom netted him a 2007 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. Now the artist teams with children's author Ellen Levine to re-create another tale from Tubman's time: the amazing true story of Henry "Box" Brown, a runaway slave from Virginia who "mailed himself to freedom" in a cramped wooden crate. 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.
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 family—suddenly sold in the slave market—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 man—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.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
This true story of one escaped slave, Henry Brown, is simply and movingly told by Ellen Levine, author of several critically acclaimed books about episodes of social injustice (e.g., A Fence Away from Freedom, Freedom's Children, and Darkness over Denmark). When he was still a young boy, Henry was separated from his family at the whim of his master, and longed to be as free and happy as he imagined the birds were. As an adult, Henry once again lost his family when his wife and three children were sold off while he was at work. All the joy was gone from life and he was prepared to take desperate measures to escape. With the help of a local physician opposed to slavery, Henry was nailed into a wooden crate and shipped from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphiaa grueling 27 hour journeywhere he was released from the box and his slavery. Afterwards the story of Henry "Box" Brown's daring escape was used to help raise money for abolitionist efforts. Levine's narrative is richly enhanced by the masterful watercolor, oil, and pencil illustrations of Kadir Nelson, also a previous award recipient (e.g., Ellington was not a Street, and Thunder Rose). The full two-page spreads, often of small details, like the "THIS SIDE UP" label on the shipping crate, add visual power and immediacy to the text. A brief historical note about the Underground Railroad is provided at the end of the book along with a short bibliography for further reading. This is a very personal account of the injustice of slavery that will surely provoke curious students to learn more about the Underground Railroad, Henry Brown, and slavery in general.
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—One of the most interesting stories from the Underground Railroad is that of Henry "Box" Brown. Raised a slave, he found a unique way to escape after his wife and children were sold away from him. With the help of friends, he mailed himself to Philadelphia and freedom in a small wooden crate. The 350 mile journey was rife with risk. Ellen Levine tells his tale (Scholastic, 2007) with well-crafted, evocative text, beautifully paired with Kadir Nelson's heart-touching illustrations. These are scanned iconographically, giving viewers the chance to appreciate the finer details of the powerful art, and are brighter and more clearly defined in the film than on the pages of the book. An interview with the author provides additional insight into her research, the Fugitive Slave Law, and her motivation for telling the story. Nicely narrated by Jerry Dixon, with original music and sound effects that help bring the story to life, this Caldecott Honor book is well-served by this presentation. When text, narration, and music combine in a joyous celebration at the end of Henry's journey, viewers will hopefully gain a greater understanding of the value of freedom.—Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary School, Federal Way, WA
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)
Children's Literature - Tiffany Erickson
In this amazing story of Henry Box Brown's journey to freedom, students will see the intense heartbreak of slavery. Henry lives with his mother until his owner gives him away. Henry works hard at the factory where he is enslaved, and his owner agrees to let him marry another slave. They have a couple of children and live happily for a time, until his wife's owner sells her and their children. After this devastating event, it is not long before Henry must escape. Very little animation is present, but rather the camera examines smaller areas of the illustrations to give a sense of movement. Music accompanies the narration and adds to the tension and victory of the text. Students might wonder what happened to Henry's children, and the author's note explains that he never saw them again, reminding everyone about the horrors of slavery. An interview with the author and notes for viewing are also included. Classrooms will find this DVD very useful. Reviewer: Tiffany Erickson