On the surface, the story behind “Henry’s Freedom Box” may not seem like the best subject matter for childrens books, yet in this beautiful and award winning book, author Ellen Levine and illustrator Kadir Nelson skillfully tell the astonishing true story of Henry Brown, a slave who literally mailed himself into freedom. Henry’s young life is depicted so perfectly by Nelson’s images it should come as no surprise that he won a prestigious Caldecott Honor Award for his illustrations.
Separated from his mother as a young child, Henry is forced to work in his new master’s tobacco factory where he goes on to meet and marry another slave. The couple eventually have three children together until one of the most poignant and heart breaking images shows Henry Brown watching helplessly as his family – who have just been sold at a slave market – disappear down a long road. Even children will sense the despair knowing that Henry will never see his family again. That’s when “Henry’s Freedom Box” changes direction. Working with abolitionists and other sympathetic people, Henry Brown actually manages to pack himself into a wooden crate and send himself – by mail – to the freedom of Philadelphia, “to a place where there are no slaves!”
While the images are eye catching, the real beauty of “Henry’s Freedom Box” is in the amazing story of the man and his incredible journey from the clutches of adversity into freedom. Picture books this powerful are not to be missed.