Henry “Box” Brown’s ingenious escape from slavery is celebrated for its daring and originality. Throughout his life, Henry was fortified by music, family, and a dream of freedom. When he seemed to lose everything, he forged these elements into the song that sustained him through the careful planning and execution of his perilous journey to the North.
Honoring Henry’s determination and courage, Sibert Medal–winning author Sally M. Walker weaves a lyrical, moving story of the human spirit. And in nuanced illustrations, Sean Qualls captures the moments of strength, despair, and gratitude that highlight the remarkable story of a man determined to be free.
Much admired for her well-researched history and science nonfiction titles, Walker here explores the life of a slave who famously made his escape to freedom by squeezing into a crate bound for Philadelphia. As revealed in the author’s note, Walker was intrigued by the role song played in Brown’s life, and her affecting, homespun narrative imagines how singing helped him endure extreme hardship: “As Henry worked ’neath Virginia’s hot sun, he sang his workday song. Its lift, tote, toss-the-sack words sent strength to his arms.” Like Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box (2007), Walker’s text touches on Brown’s childhood and his heartrending separation from his wife and children, but much of the book is devoted to the claustrophobia-inducing details of the slave’s incredible escape. Qualls’ acrylic, pencil, and collage artwork, featuring a somber palette of black, brown, and blue, is particularly well suited to the subject, and the dynamically composed illustrations ratchet up the drama of this heroic tale. Grades 1-3. --Kristen McKulski
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