A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Young readers will learn a bit about slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the tragedy of families being separated and sold off. Shows a real-life hero who managed to escape slavery with a clever escape plan.
No matter how bad your circumstances are, keep your spirts up. No matter how hopeless things seem, you may come up with a creative solution to improve your situation. Sometimes help comes from someone kind when you least expect it.
Positive Role Models
Henry is brave, hardworking, and clever to come up with his escape plan and risk everything to follow it through. He never gives up.
This is the story of a brave enslaved African American man who escapes slavery against all odds by using his wits and coming up with a successful plan despite the serious risks. Portrayals of Black characters are positive, as is the portrayal of the White abolitionist doctor who helps mail Henry in a wooden crate to some friends of the doctor's in Philadelphia.
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Violence & Scariness
A sick and dying man shown in his bed. Henry's wife and children are sold to another enslaver and he isn't reunited with them by the end of the book. Illustrations show Henry in cramped positions in a wooden crate as it's shipped from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Henry's Freedom Box, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, 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 during slavery, children were 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.
Is It Any Good?
This moving story of one individual's strength of spirit is inspirational in its simplicity. Henry's Freedom Box poignantly presents the heartrending sorrow of families torn apart during U.S. slavery, and the powerlessness of the enslaved people. This book does not preach. In fact, its message is almost understated. But, in the eyes of the boy, in the gentleness of his mother, in the cramped, crated body of the escaping man, its meaning comes across loud and clear: Slavery is evil.
Illustrator Kadir Nelson's artwork 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. Kadir's illustrations alone make this a book worth having.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.