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HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX: A True Story From The Underground Railroad

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A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.

Henry Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday -- his first day of freedom.

From School Library Journal

Grade 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

About the Author

How did people escape on the Underground Railroad? What was it like to land on Ellis Island?How did it feel to travel the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon? Ellen Levine has revealed worldsof fascinating adventure with her nonfiction books for young readers.

Although Ellen Levine enjoys reading and writing fiction, most of her books for young readershave been nonfiction. “Writing nonfiction lets me in behind the scenes of the story. I enjoylearning new things and meeting new people, even if they lived 200 years ago.”

“Real heroes,” Levine says, “aren't necessarily on TV or in the news. They can be ordinarypeople who are willing to take risks for causes they believe in. Nonfiction offers a way tointroduce young readers to real people who have shown tremendous courage, even when facedwith great danger. All of us have the potential. And one doesn't have to be a grown-up,” sheadds.

When she's not writing, Levine likes to share the excitement of research and the importance ofaccuracy with young readers. “Many young people think research is dull; you go to anencyclopedia, copy information, give it a title, and call it a report.” Using her books asexamples, Ellen explains how to get other, more interesting information. “I may not mention theexact words, but I talk to young people about primary and secondary sources. If I'm speakingwith third graders, I ask them, 'Where would I go if I wanted to find out what it's like to be athird grader?' Most will say, 'Read a book.' But when they say, 'Ask a third grader,' I knowthey've understood what I mean by a primary source of inspiration.”

For If You Were an Animal Doctor, for example, Ellen witnessed an emergency operation on acow. While doing research in Wyoming for Ready, Aim, Fire!, her biography of Annie Oakley,she got to hold the gun Ms. Oakley is believed to have shot in the presence of the Queen ofEngland. “It gave me such a strong feeling about this person,” she says. “That's part of research,too.”

Ellen Levine is the author of many acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Among them:If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island, I Hate English!, If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King, and Secret Missions. Her recent book, Freedom's Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories, was named one of the Ten Best Children's Books of the Year by The New York Times, and Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association.

Ellen divides her time between New York City and Salem, New York.

Kadir Nelson illustrated two Caldecott Honor Books: MOSES and HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX. ELLINGTON WAS NOT A STREET by Ntozake Shange won the Coretta Scott King Award. Will Smith’s JUST THE TWO OF US won an NAACP Image Award, and his new book, WE ARE THE SHIP continues to garner major awards. Nelson showed artistic talent at age 3 and began working in oils by age 16. He lives with his family in San Diego, California.

Kadir Nelson's award-winning books include Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, which won the Coretta Scott King Award and was an ALA Notable Children's Book; and Just the Two of Us by Will Smith, which received an NAACP Image Award. Mr. Nelson lives in San Diego, California, with his wife and two daughters.

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