Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom

Brief Description: Picture book biography in verse of life of Henry “Box” Brown, an African American slave who mailed himself to freedom. With back matter.

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Date Range: 1815-1897 (lifespan)

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Original Publication: 2020

Suitable for Grades: 3rd and up

Target Audience: Picture Book, Middle Grade

Librarian's Review

This picture book biography in verse depicts the brave life of Henry Brown, who incredibly mailed himself in a large wooden box to freedom! Born a slave on a Virginia plantation, Henry’s family is ripped apart when he was in his teens.  The verses describe brutal, unjust conditions (in an age-appropriate way) on the plantation and later a tobacco factory. He marries and starts his own family. Then his family is also torn apart by the cruel commodification of the African American people. They are sold further down south and with much sadness he watches them marching out of town on the “slave chain”, never to see them again. His strong Christian faith sees him through the tough times. Inspired by Nat Turner, David Walker and the Underground Railroad, Brown comes up with his own unique but dangerous plan to escape.   He has nothing more to lose.

Each poem has six lines, just like the number of sides in a box. The painted illustrations by Michele Wood also carry a box motif throughout, lending many surfaces a quilt-like pattern. In addition to Brown’s daring escape, the text also describes the process of growing and curing tobacco, and his later life touring the country and England with a giant panorama of his adventure. A surprising fact: Brown used the Adams Express Company to ship himself to freedom in Philadelphia. The company, which still exists today albeit in a completely different line of work, helped abolitionists spread their message. Back matter includes a time line, a bibliography, and notes from the author and illustrator.


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