Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine



Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Henry's Freedom Box

Henry’s Freedom Box
Author: Ellen Levine; Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Published: January 1, 2007 by Scholastic

GoodReads Summary: A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday—his first day of freedom.

Review: The story of Harriet Tubman is perhaps the most commonly taught story about the Underground Railroad. Henry “Box” Brown’s story is quite different, and I learned a lot by reading this book. I think it would be an excellent text to teach in the classroom. This book made me very emotional, and I am still thinking about it, weeks after I finished it. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the story is inspirational. The author’s note at the end of the text provide more factual information that will send students scouring for more information about the time period.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Most obviously, this would be an excellent text for a unit about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. I am a big proponent of using texts outside of traditional units (or Black History Month) because these texts are valuable beyond the time period they represent. I would love to do a unit on Endurance or Bravery or Freedom. I would find and group similar texts that promote discussion and inquiry about the theme and ask students and essential questions like, What does it mean to be brave?

Discussion Questions: How does Henry endure many challenges in life? In what ways is he brave?; What does Henry teach us about life?; Describe another famous person in history or modern times who reminds you of Henry.

One of the Many, Beautiful Illustrations:

Kadir Nelson Henry 

Read This If You Loved: Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill; The Listeners by Gloria Whelan; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson; The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

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