Henry's Freedom Box



Heart-wrenching but hopeful story of escape.

What parents need to know

Violence & scariness

Henry's wife and children are sold to another slave owner and he isn't reunited with them by the end of the book.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book is based on a true story from the underground railroad and is as riveting as the strong, straightforward stare of the young boy on its cover. It may disturb younger readers, as it should, that children are sold away from their families, and parents should be prepared to talk about this and the other harsh realities of Henry's life. An author's note at the end tells of the real Henry Brown and his Freedom Box on which this story was based.

What's the story?

When Henry is young, his master dies and he is separated from his mother. Put to work in a tobacco factory, he marries and has a family of his own. After his wife and family are sold away from him, he comes up with an inventive plan for escaping to freedom.

Is it any good?


Inspirational in its simplicity, HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX tells a moving story of one individual's strength of spirit. It also poignantly presents the heart-wrenching sorrow of families torn apart, and the powerlessness of the enslaved. This book does not preach. In fact, its message is almost understated. But, in the eyes of the boy, the gentleness of his mother, the cramped crated body of the escaping man, its meaning comes across loud and clear: Even in the best of situations, slavery is an evil thing.

Artwork by Kadir Nelson brings warmth and reality to a story that otherwise is told rather straightforwardly. With crosshatched pencil lines under layers of watercolor and oils, he has created amazingly sensitive and powerful portraits based on an anti-slavery lithograph of Henry "Box" Brown that was printed in 1850. His illustrations alone make this a book worth having.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about slavery in America, the underground railroad, and the amazing things people did, both to escape unhappy, horrible circumstances as well as to help others escape. Families can also discuss what Henry's life was like as he grew up on the plantation, and after. What about his plan to escape? Was taking such a chance worth it?

Book details

Author:Ellen Levine
Illustrator:Kadir Nelson
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Press
Publication date:January 1, 2008
Number of pages:40
Read aloud:4
Read alone:7
Award:Caldecott Medal and Honors

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 5 and 8 year old Written byMitchell1996 May 30, 2009

A Must Read For All Children

This book is an excellent piece of literature that can be used to develop an awesome social studies lesson. The themes of family and freedom is beautifully crafted through illustrations and text. In addition, children have the opportunity to see how slavery had an impact on the lives of African American men, woman, and children.
Parent Written bylola brii February 6, 2012

the best

that it tells ral life slavey from a kids perspective
What other families should know
Great role models
Parent of a 4, 6, and 10 year old Written bytkowalski February 22, 2011
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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