Paths to freedom
2008 Caldecott Honor Book
A few years ago, I was talking with a writer who asked what stories I, as a second-grade teacher, wanted for my students. I told her my students loved stories about lesser-known figures in history, the brave ordinary folks. Henry, of Henry's Freedom Box, is just the sort of person I had in mind.
Henry Box Brown was one of the Underground Railroad's most famous runaways, but his story is an unfamiliar one for many modern students. Henry's Freedom Box, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, will change that. In 1849, a few months after his wife and children were sold away, Henry decided he was through with being a slave. Finding a large shipping crate, he came up with a plan to mail himself from Richmond, Virginia, to William Johnson, an abolitionist who lived in Philadelphia. Henry poured a bottle of oil of vitriol on his hand, causing an injury that meant he could not work for his master and, with the help of sympathetic white men, traveled 350 miles during 27 hours inside the box.
Nelson's prodigious talent imagines what Henry must have endured while crammed inside the box and how he looked after the ordeal. Never shying away from the horrors of slavery, Levine's text dramatically portrays the pull of freedom.