Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Grade Level: 2-5
Element 3: Issues of Social Injustice
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Summary: Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine is based on true events from the Underground Railroad. Henry Brown was born into slavery and when his master gets sick, he believes he is a step closer to freedom in hopes that his owner will set him free. Sadly, Henry finds that he is given away and is ripped from his family. While Henry works for his new master, he marries a young girl named Nancy and they have three children together. While working at his owner’s factory, he discovers that his wife and children were sold in the slave market and did not get the chance to say goodbye. Once again, Henry is torn from his family. Soon after, Henry comes up with a plan where he will mail himself in a box to Pennsylvania, where he will begin a new chapter of his life as a free man. This story reveals the heartache of slavery and the obstacles a young man faces in order to acquire freedom.
Element 3 (Issues of Social Injustice): Henry’s Freedom Box explores how a group of individuals experienced oppression and reveals a first hand account of a young man who was born into slavery. Levine exposes the brutal truth about slavery and how individuals were dehumanized, as they weren’t given birthdays, beat, and continuously torn from their families. As we see Henry mature, we view a glimpse of the challenges he faces due to the color of his skin. It is important that children are taught issues of social injustice from a young age because it will lead them to understand why certain individuals act in certain ways. Thus, allowing them to become mindful of others, as they learn about the various forms of oppression our history has seen.
Activity: An activity I would have my students accomplish would be to create their own freedom box. Students will be asked to bring in a shoebox that will be covered in construction paper. The first side will have their name, birthday, and picture. The second side will ask them to write what freedom means to them and the third side will have them discuss how they felt when the book was read to them. Lastly, students will be asked to complete a 3-2-1 reading strategy, in which they will write 3 things they learned, 2 facts, and 1 question they still have on the remaining three sides of the box. After students finish their activity, they can either present in groups or as a class.