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

by Ellen Levine

Hardcover, 2007





Scholastic Press (2007), 40 pages


A fictionalized account of how in 1849 a Virginia slave, Henry "Box" Brown, escapes to freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia.

Media reviews

Publisher's Weekly
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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—Inspired by an actual 1830s lithograph, this beautifully crafted picture book briefly relates the story of Henry "Box" Brown's daring escape from slavery. Torn from his mother as a child, and then forcibly separated from his wife and children as an adult, a heartsick and desperate Brown conspired with abolitionists and successfully traveled north to Philadelphia in a packing crate. His journey took just over one full day, during which he was often sideways or upside down in a wooden crate large enough to hold him, but small enough not to betray its contents. The story ends with a reimagining of the lithograph that inspired it, in which Henry Brown emerges from his unhappy confinement—in every sense of the word—and smiles upon his arrival in a comfortable Pennsylvania parlor. Particularly considering the broad scope of Levine's otherwise well-written story, some of the ancillary "facts" related in her text are unnecessarily dubious; reports vary, for instance, as to whether the man who sealed Henry into the crate was a doctor or a cobbler. And, while the text places Henry's arrival on March 30, other sources claim March 24 or 25. Nelson's illustrations, always powerful and nuanced, depict the evolution of a self-possessed child into a determined and fearless young man. While some of the specifics are unfortunately questionable, this book solidly conveys the generalities of Henry Brown's story.—Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

User reviews

LibraryThing member S1BRNSUGAR
This book is about a young slave boy who was sent away from his family to the son of his former master. He grows up and marries a young lady. They had 3 children together. The master sells the wife and all the children. When he finds out, he runs to the town and watch them be pulled away. He is determined to be free. He talks with a white anti-slave man who ships him to a place where his is finally free.

The students could expound on the underground railroad. They can explore how and why it got started.
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LibraryThing member attebb
This is a dramatic story about a boy born into slavery who grows up losing his both his families to different masters. After losing his wife and two children, Henry is determined to escape from freedom forever. WIth the help of a local doctor and fellow slave, Henry mails himself to Philadelphia and to freedom. It is the day that the box opens in Philadelphia that Henry is finally free like the birds he sees on the days he is sent away or loses his family and the day of his real birthday. The story is very poignant and rich with emotion. It is an excellent story for children to read or hear at any age when learning about the Underground Railroad or about the effects of slavery. One quote from the book clearly defines the meaning and significance of freedom: “Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind? They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.” The illustrations are great additions that are detailed and emotional and give the story more richness. Overall, this is a beautifully written story that is worthy of all the awards.… (more)
LibraryThing member JenJ.
Henry Brown was a slave who, after his wife and children were sold away from him, was determined to escape to freedom in the North. With the help of some friends, Henry mails himself in a box to abolitionists in Philadelphia. While the story is inspirational, it's the illustrations that make this a standout. Kadir Nelson, who received the Caldecott Honor for this, used pencil, watercolor and oil to create earthy, brown-dominated illustrations that have depth and texture. An author's note at the end of the book talks briefly about slavery and the Underground Railroad and fleshes out the story of Henry Brown a little more. I did feel the story was a little incomplete because the author's note doesn't really say what became of Henry Brown - it only focuses on this event and how the world reacted to it. Still, this could be tied into school lessons in a ton of ways and might inspire students to do some research on what happened to Henry Brown after he made it to Philadelphia.… (more)
LibraryThing member tstato1
Born a slave, Henry never knew his birthday. When his master dies, he is sent away from his mother to work. Here, he meets Nancy, another slave. They get married and have three children. One day, Nancy and the children are sold to another slave owner. Henry just comes up with the idea of mailing himself to the North. He spends hours packed in a small box, but he is finally delivered to the North.

This story was very moving. The illustrations definitely added to the overall effectiveness of the book. It's difficult when we can see Henry all squished in the box as others around him are free and open to move however they wish. It really adds an added punch to the text. I was saddened when Henry was separated from his family. I cannot imagine going through something like that. I think this is a great story to have when a class is discussing slavery.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
This review has spoilers but since it’s a 40-page picture book, you will find out the ending of the book within 10 minutes of starting to read it anyway!

Henry’s Freedom Box is the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, a man who escaped slavery by mailing himself to freedom.

While written for young children, this book doesn’t sugar coat how horrible slavery was. The very first page tells us that Henry doesn’t know when his birthday is because slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays. However, it did make me uncomfortable I read, “Henry’s master had been good to Henry and his family,” because I don’t think you can really be good to someone if you are that person’s “master”.

The master dies and leaves Henry to his son. Henry marries another slave and has three children. The most horrible part of the book is when the master’s son sells Henry’s wife and children. Henry runs to the center of town just as his wife and children are being driven away. At this point in the story, my six year old was almost crying.

The story ends somewhat happily. Henry makes it to freedom but he never finds his wife and kids. After I finished reading it to him, my six year old told me he was afraid he was going to have nightmares because Henry never found his family. It’s a conundrum – I want my kids to learn the history of this country but at the same time, I want to shield them from all bad things. They need to learn this stuff sometime though – I can’t keep them in a bubble forever!

Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are fabulous, especially the paintings of Henry as a young boy. The pain and sadness in Henry’s eyes is heartbreaking. This was a tough story but it was also amazing. I can't imagine stuffing myself into a box for over 24 hours. The perseverance of Henry "Box" Brown is truly remarkable.
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LibraryThing member eoertl1
This is a true story told from a victim of the underground railroad itself. Autobiographies such as this one are a great text set for children to get their hands on. It provides them with factual and actual information from that time and shows children what it was like. Children can utilize this book for projects. The author does a great job of illustrating the colors, setting, and change of time throughout the course of the book.The point of view is told from someone who went through the historical time. The characters are believable because they were at once real people. Overall, I would use this book in my classroom because it shows multiculturalism which is something so important to incorporate into the classroom these days. +… (more)
LibraryThing member annajamieson
Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine is a biography about Henry "Box" Brown, an African American slave from the 19th century. The book tells the story of how he grew up as a slave, and when he grew up, he shipped himself in a crate to the North so that he could find freedom. It is a very encouraging story about a brave man who faced the hardships of discrimination and cruelty in the United States. It is a great biography picture book for children, especially when they begin learning about the history of our country and slavery. This book would allow children to read about a real person's experience with slavery. In the classroom you could use this book to have children then write a letter to the main character of this book and ask him certain things about his circumstances.… (more)
LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Ellen Levine, the author of numerous historical and biographical works for young people, including a number of entries in the If You... series - If Your Name Was Changed At Ellis Island, If You Lived With The Iroquois, If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad - turns her attention to the story of escaped slave Henry Box Brown in this award-winning picture-book. Born a slave in antebellum Virginia, Henry Brown was parted from his mother and family at a young age, and sent to work at a tobacco factory in Richmond. Here he met and fell in love with Nancy, a follow slave, and having obtained the permission of their respective owners, they married, and had three children together. But one terrible day, when Nancy's owner sold her and the children away from Richmond, Henry knew that - for the second time in his life - he would never see his family again. It was then that he conceived of his daring escape plan - to ship himself north to freedom in a box - a plan that would make him an Abolitionist celebrity, and earn him his middle name...

I knew nothing about Henry's Freedom Box before it was chosen by the Picture-Book Club to which I belong as one of our February selections, in honor of Black History Month; nor had I ever heard of Henry Box Brown. How glad I am that this omission has been rectified! Levine's narrative is a moving one, emphasizing the inhumanity of slavery, and the courage of those who rebelled against it. Young readers will be enthralled, as they follow Henry's perilous journey north. I myself came away with a desire to know more, and will try to track down Brown's own (adult) narrative. The artwork by Kadir Nelson, done in pencil, watercolor and oil, won him a Caldecott Honor in 2008, an award that was richly deserved! His colors are deep, his use of light adept, and his underlying pencil lines create an impression of depth and texture that is very appealing.

Highly recommended to anyone looking for good picture-books about slavery and the Underground Railroad, as well as to all Kadir Nelson fans!
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LibraryThing member simss
This book is based on the underground railroad about a guy named Henry who mails hiself to Pennslyvania to become free.

I dont have any personal experiences but have heard about the importance of the underground railroad.

Classroom extensions are to have students draw what they think the underground railroad looks like and post them around the classroom also have students write own story.… (more)
LibraryThing member shelbyweryavah
This book is about a young boy who is a slave. He grows up as a slave longing to be free. He thinks all his hopes and dreams disapear when his wife and children are taken away from him; sold to another master. One bright idea will set him free.

I loved this book! It gives a little glimpse of how the slaves wanted to be free with all their heart; not like the old stories you hear where the slaves were jus people that didnt belong and criminals. I could read this book over and over again.

One extension would have to be talking about the slave trade and how horrible the slaves were treated, that they are people just like everyone else, and how it isn't right to sell people for labor. Alot of children would worry their parents would sell them so we would talk about how it isn't done today. My students would also make their own freedom box. They will decorate it any way they like.
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LibraryThing member tmccollom
Henry's Freedom Box begins with Henry as a young boy being given to his master’s son because his master is dying. His master thought that Henry was a good worker. At Henry's new home he met the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. With the permission of their masters they married and started a family. Henry's wife and family were sold and Henry felt as though his life was over. With the help of a white man who thought slavery was wrong Henry was shipped to Philadelphia and was free. Henry finally had a birthday.

I absolutely loved this book. It really made me think about the situations that some people had to go through just to live in this free country. Along with the illustrations, this book had a great story line.

I could use this book in a history unit when discussing slavery or the Underground Railroad. I could also use it in a family unit.
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LibraryThing member ggenao
This book remind me that it doesn't matter your circumstances you can determine to be different and make changes that help you accomplish your dreams.
LibraryThing member adrianneosmus
Henry's Freedom Box is a great book about a boy's struggle with slavery. Henry has always been a slave but got to stay with his family until one day he was given to another master. He worked hard in his master's tobacco factory. He fell in love with another slave, They married and had children. He was always scared that his family would be sold. His family got sold and Henry was very upset. Henry wanted to be free so he got into a box and wanted to be mailed to freedom. Did he make it too freedon?

This is a very good book. This book does a very good job at displaying slavery and the means that slaves would go to for freedom. This is a book that I would use in my classroom.

You could have your students write a story, having them protray a child in slavery. You could also let them talk about the different things that might have happened to Henry while he was in the box.
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LibraryThing member cvyork
I like picture books that are based on true stories, Henry Brown was a real person in American history, and his legacy is real too
LibraryThing member spartyliblover
Henry Brown is sold away from his family as a boy, he meets another slave girl whom he marries and has children with, his family is sold and Henry decides to find away to become free. Henry is the only developed character in the story, and most of that development is left to the illustrations. The beginning is a bit slow, but there is an exciting climax about 3/4s of the way through the book. The setting is developed mostly through the illustrations, but it is set in the slave era of America. While the illustrations are very good, the story is a bit choppy at points as it jumps several years at once. While this would be a good book for a public library, it would need to be for more mature picture book readers (late 1st and 2nd grade) because some knowledge of slaves is necessary to understand the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member melissafourroux
This true story is about a young boy named Henry who is faced to live his life as a slave. The story starts off when Henry is a young boy still living with his mother when his master gives Henry away to his son. Henry leaves, and later finds his future wife and has children of his own, but only to have them taken away too. He decides to take his freedom into his own hands and has the help of friends to help him find his way to a place where there is no slavery. His journey in a "box" is almost unbearable for Henry, but his freedom is worth the price. This story is heartwarming and shows the bravery of a man who wants to be free. The illustrations capture the reader with every turn of the page; the emotion of the characters is truly amazing.

I checked this book out from the library and when I finished it I immediately went to the bookstore to purchase a copy for my own library. This story is so beautifully written and I think that young readers can appreciate the meaning. I liked the way the author compared the slave children to the torn leaves blowing in the wind. The story was very simple, but so powerful.

I would like to incorporate this book into a social studies lesson where the topic of slavery is introduced. I think it is important to look at slavery from a personal point of view, it makes it that much more real to them. This story would also be great to introduce heroes and discuss what attributes make a hero. I think it is very important for our students to see our country's history in its past, present and future, and all of the changes that have taken place over the years.
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LibraryThing member ValerieStanley
Henry Brown was a slave, he didn't know how old he was or when his birthday was because slaves were not aloud to know their birthdays. When Henry got older he feel in love and married and had children. In these days slaves could be sold not matter what and Henry's wife and children were sold and taken to a different place that he would never know about. Henry got one of the doctors that didn't believe in slavery to help him mail himself away from his master's place and somewhere where there was no slavery.
This is a wonderful book. I truly enjoyed everything about it. I know how important it is for people to know and understand slavery. It is a big part of the curriculum in schools all over the United States and I feel that this book is very appropriate for children.
This would go good with history lessons about slavery. Any kind of activities about slavery would go good with this book.
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LibraryThing member MaggieLizz
In this book, Henry was born into slavery and one he though he was going to be freed, but instead he was passed down from a father to a son. As Henry got older, he had a family that he loved dearly and they were sold to another master and Henry was devastated. He had to find a way to freedom, and so he did.

I've always been interested in days when slavery was insane. I love listening the stories about how some freed themselves and how some masters were not as bad as they sounded. It's a major part of American history and I love it.

One extension I would use would be having each student painting their own picture of what Henry would look like in the box and everyone would see how each picture was different.
Another I would use would be have the students make their own 'freedom box' .
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LibraryThing member Kaylinn_Hall
This book is about a young slave boy who was sent away from his family to the son of his former master. Here, he grows up and marries a young lady. They end up having 3 children together. One day the master sells the wife and all the children. When he finds out, he runs to the town center and watches them be pulled away. He is finally determined to be free. He talks with a white anti-slave man who ships him to a place where his is finally free.

I never read this book as a child, and now as an adult, this story is really sad. I cannot imagine them taking away my husband and child, and not ever seeing them again, or even not saying goodbye. When I was little, I could not believe that people would treat others this way because they were different. This book really puts into perspective what really happened, and children can easily relate because it is told through a childs eye in a way.

I think that one activity I would have the children do is to draw a picture of their family and describe them. Another activity is to write what they thought of the book, and what they believe though what happened what events were right or wrong in their eyes.
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LibraryThing member kthartig
Grade 2 to read; see review in January 2008 issue of School Library Media Activities Monthly.
LibraryThing member kellidenise
This story centers around a man named Henry Brown who was born into slavery. His Master sends Henry to his son where he meets Nancy and they are married and begin a family. Henry continues his work as a slave and one day learns that his wife and children have been sold. He devises a plan to mail himself to Philidelphia where he will be free. Henry makes a couragous journey by cart, boat, and train and finally gains his freedom.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. The simplicity captures Henry's agony. He goes to great lengths to secure his freedom by injuring his hand. I also liked how the author notes Henry didn't find his family after reaching Philidelphia and later moves to England. I was actually wondering what happened when I finished the book until I came across that note.

This would be a wonderful book for elementary students to read and discuss the Underground Railroad. It would fit very well into a lesson plan introducing slavery. It would also be interesting to pair with other stories about famous slaves. I think it is important for students to realize the agony of slavery and this book introduces the topic in a mild manner suitable for younger readers.
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LibraryThing member JackieKuhlman
Henry's Freedom Box is about a boy who worked in slavery and was determined to be set free. His determination becomes unstoppable expecially after he gets slit up from his family to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but then is again seperated from his family. Then one day he figrues it out! He will mail himself free! Will it work or will Henry be caught?
I first read this book on a Saturday during my Children's Literature Class and was amazed by the work of the story and pictures. This book shows determinationa and self belief can get through any adversity.
This would be a wonderful book to use during a section on Slavery or Civil War Era. You could also have the student write about some adversity in their own lives and how they got through it. The students could also write what they would do if they were Henry.
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LibraryThing member tshrum06
This is a good example of a biography. It is a pretty basic plot, but it does follow Henry from his childhood to adulthood, which I think a lot of biographical picture books don't. It focused on his Freedom Box experience, but it began with him as a child. It seems to be accurate information without a lot of embellishment.
Henry is a round, dynamic character. When we begin the story, all we know is that he is a slave, but then we learn more about him such as his dreams and about his family and his desire to be free. He changes a lot through the story, which makes sense because it follows him through most of his life. He begins not really understanding the severity of slavery and ends having a great knowledge of slavery and its negative influences and ends as a free man.

Age Appropriateness: Primary, Intermediate
Media: Painting
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LibraryThing member LyndsayE82
Wonderful story of a slave who fights for his freedom in an unconventional way.
LibraryThing member scadd07
This book was a great example of a biography, because it told the truth, even though it might be hard to hear. His family all gets sold to another master, and Henry escapes from slavery by mailing himself to a place where black people are considered free. It would be fine to read this book to young students, but it would be best for intermediate readers or more advanced readers, in my opinion.… (more)


Original language


Physical description

40 p.; 9.25 x 0.25 inches


043977733X / 9780439777339


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