Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Henry’s Freedom Box

Levine, Ellen (Author)
Nelson, Kadir (Illustrator)
Scholastic 2007. 40 pages
First published: 2007
ISBN: 9780439777339 (hardcover)
9780545057400 (paperback)
Original language: English
Book type: Non-Fiction
Book genre: Biography

Text Elements:

character, point of view, setting, stance

Award

Caldecott Honor Book – 2008

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

This biography of Henry Brown tells how, as a slave-child, he wasn’t even allowed to know his birthday. “‘Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind?’” his mother asks, “‘They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.’”

Simple language relates Henry’s loneliness and mistreatment, working in his new master’s tobacco factory, and finally having his own wife and children sold to pay their master’s debt. Children will likely have strong opinions on the slavery system. They will appreciate the cleverness of Henry’s plan for escape.

The illustrations glow with rich colour. Crosshatching and other fine markings give them satisfying definition. Packed in his crate to freedom, Henry’s face twists in anguish when his box is thrown onto the ship upside down—on his head. His palm smacks against the page, as if pressing against the crate walls. Young readers will relish the step-by-step images of Henry being rolled upright, and when he emerges from the crate among friendly faces: “At last Henry had a birthday—March 30, 1849, his first day of freedom!”

An author’s note describes the Underground Railroad as well as details about the life of Henry “Box” Brown.

  •  

    Before reading the book, build your background knowledge by discussing the concept of slavery and its place in history. Talk about the Underground Railroad.

  •  

    Discuss the story and the symbols that are used (e.g. leaves, bird).

  •  

    Write a response based on one or two sentences you find particularly moving or significant in the text.

  •  

    Write the story of Henry’s life in England after he gains his freedom. Use his own voice.

  •  

    Read the front and back covers of the book. Talk about slavery in the United States and about the Underground Railroad. What do you think the “box” is?

  •  

    Make a timeline to sequence the events in the story. 

  •  

    Discuss how the slaves were treated in the mid-1800s using examples from the book. What do the references to “leaves” and the “bird” mean? Where does slavery still exist today (e.g. sweatshops, child labour)?

  •  

    Read the author’s note at the end of the book. Write what you think happened to Henry after he moved to England in 1850.

  •  Historians believe tens of thousands of slaves successfully escaped to freedom. In teams, brainstorm what you know about how they escaped.
  •  Stop at the two-page spread of Henry’s face. Write a journal entry of what might have been going through Henry’s mind. How would it feel to lose your family forever?
  •  Read the author’s note at the end. Write a sequel or draw a comic strip about what might have happened in the first year after Henry moved to England in 1850.
  • To construct his/her identity
  • To cooperate with others
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use creativity
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Social Sciences