Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Henry's Freedom Box
by Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
2008 Caldecott Honor Book
Most appreciated by all ages
Look at the eyes of the boy on the cover. Do you see any happiness there? Any of the joy we see would expect to see in a kid's eyes? No, the eyes of the boy are full of anger, hurt, and fear. Those are Henry's eyes and he's a slave.

Young Henry is lucky. He lives with his slave family on master's plantation where they are treated well. But his mother warns him that things can change just like the leaves on the tree. When master falls ill for the last time, he gives Henry to his son, forcing Henry to leave his loving family. While working for a new master, Henry meets Nancy, also a slave, and the two marry and begin a family. But Nancy works for a different master than Henry. One day, as Henry is at work, Nancy and their three children are sold at a slave auction to pay the master's debts. Henry arrives in time to see his family, all that he loves, carted away forever.

In his despair, Henry takes a desperate step. With the help of a white doctor, Henry packs himself into a crate and ships himself to Philadelphia and freedom at last.

Henry's story is true. It is based on the real life of Henry 'Box' Brown, who became famous around the world for having mailed himself to freedom in 1849. While the story is riveting, it's the pictures that bring home the horrors and cruelty of slavery. The bleak, somber faces on many of the pages reflect the hopelessness many of the slaves felt. Their lives were not their own; freedom only a dream. Illustrator Kadir Nelson does a wonderful job of portraying Henry and his emotions. Many of the pictures will remain with you long after you close the book.

This is an excellent story to read over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend or to share during African American history month. It emphasizes the importance of liberty, freedom and hope for all people.

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