Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Age: Preschool – Grade 3
Henry was a poor young boy who was born into slavery. It was the only life he had ever known and sadly, as a result, he did not have a birthday or any knowledge of years passing by or his age. When he got older, Henry met a young woman, Nancy, and they fell in love, got married, and had several children. One unhappy morning Henry found out that Nancy’s master had sold Nancy and their children. Henry arrived to the town square just in time to wave goodbye to his family. Many depressing weeks passed until Henry decided that he had enough and was going to be free. He enlisted the support of a wonderful white doctor who helped him to escape by packing him in a shipping crate and sending him up to his friends in Philadelphia where he could be free. It was a long journey, but thankfully Henry “Box” Brown arrived safely in Philadelphia on March 30, 1849 where he would live a free man.
Element III: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice
Based on a true story, Henry’s Freedom Box serves as a means for teaching children about slavery and oppression. While slavery is such a huge part of American history and a struggle that all students should be aware of, I think this book sheds some light onto the hardships that African Americans faced early on in their history in America. The book sheds light on the physical and emotional struggles that African Americans had to face.
In additional to exploring the issue of slavery, Henry’s Freedom Box gives children of color a reason to be proud of their heritage because they overcome the hardships they faced. While the details are endless, one obvious fact about slavery is that it was the whites that imprisoned and enslaved the blacks. In this instance, a white doctor was the one who helped Henry escape and sent him to live with his friends in Philadelphia. I think it is important to showcase that while many white people were guilty for committing intolerable acts of injustice, there were still good people who wanted to help the African Americans and believed slavery was wrong. These small acts of rebellion and support eventually lead to the end of slavery and freedom for all people.
Using the book in the classroom:
I think Henry’s Freedom Box is a good starting point to teach students about the history of slavery and some of the key people who helped take a stance and make a difference during this time period. From the very beginning of the story to the vey end, there are many great relatable talking points to discuss with students as a teacher reads along. For example:
- Children love their birthdays, but slaves could not celebrate their special days – how would that make a student feel?
- If the student were the doctor, would he/she have helped Henry escape even though it meant he/she might get in trouble?
- After being a slave for 33 years, what things would he/she finally like to do now that he/she is free?
After the reading, the class could learn about other famous African Americans who were monumental in advocating for freedom, such as Harriet Tubman who was famous for her method for escaping slavery. Students could follow Harriet or Henry's journey on a map to understand just how far they had to travel to freedom to put the large feat into perspective. Lastly, students could discuss amongst themselves or as a class what they would do if they were in Henry’s position. How would they try and escape? All of these activities will peak students' interest and start the conversation around social injustices.