Henry’s Freedom Box, A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Henry’s Freedom Box
A True Story from the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Scholastic Press 2007
Caldecott Honor Book

Henry’s mother asks him, “Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind?  They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.”  And so Henry is soon taken from his mother.  In time he marries and has children, but one day they are sold.  Henry can no longer live this way and creates a plan to mail himself to a free state.  A white man who thought slavery was wrong made the arrangements.  As an excuse to stay home from work and cover his absence giving him enough time to get out of the city, Henry poured vitriol (sulfuric acid) on his hand.  In the early morning he was hammered into a box and sent to Philadelphia.  While traveling on a steamboat, he was upside down and very hot, until a couple men rolled him on his side and then rolled him in an upright position.  He was transferred to a railroad car and eventually delivered to supporters in Philadelphia.

This richly written story helps young readers begin to understand the pain and risks people in slavery took to become free.  Henry succeeded.  Award-winning illustrator Kadir Nelson beautifully shows the emotions people in slavery felt when with family and when treated like objects.

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