Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Grade Level: K-4

Buy it here!

Henry’s Freedom Box is the story of a young African American boy named Henry Brown, who was born a slave. He doesn’t know how old he is because at that time slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays. When Henry’s master passed away, he was sent away to work for his master’s son and separated from his family. There he met Nancy, another slave who he later married, and together they had three children. One day, Nancy and his three children were sold to another slave owner. Henry knew from that point on he had to be free, and came up with a plan to mail himself in a box to a place where there were no slaves. After a long journey in his box, Henry woke up to four men who welcomed him from Philadelphia. This was the day Henry finally became free from slavery, on March 30th 1849.

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
With Henry’s Freedom Box being based on a true story, it shows us how African Americans were treated during the time of slavery. They had no rights, and were owned by people who often yelled at them, beat them, and made them do hard labor. They weren’t allowed to do simple tasks such as sing in the streets, didn’t have birthdays, and couldn’t marry without the permission of their master. They lived their life knowing that at any point they could be uprooted from their family, and sold to another master at a slave market.

In a 2nd grade class, I would use this book for an interactive read aloud. While reading, I would stop every couple pages and respond with feelings, connections, and questions. I would also ask the students to make predictions as well. For example, I would stop after the first page and respond with a feeling such as, “I feel bad for Henry, I can’t imagine not having a birthday to celebrate each year.” When Henry’s master is telling him he will be giving him to his son, I would respond with a question “I can’t believe Henry is going to be separated from his family! I wonder how that will make him feel?” Then when Henry says goodbye to his family I would respond with a connection saying “This reminds me of when I went to visit my grandma in Chile once, and I had to say goodbye to my family before I left.” I would then ask my students to make some predictions. For the part where Henry is walking in the streets I would say to my students “What do you think would happen to slaves if they were caught singing in the streets?” Another prediction I would ask students to make is after Henry’s wife and children were sold at the slave market, I’ll say to my students “What do you think Henry will do next?” After we finish the text, I would start a discussion with some open ended questions where I might ask students, “How do you think Henry felt when his family was sold at the slave market?” “Do you think Henry will see his family again?” Also, “Why do you think slaves were treated this way during this time?”

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