Cover image for Henry's freedom box
Henry's freedom box
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Scholastic Press, c2007.
Physical Description:
[40] p. : col. ill. ; 29 cm.
Reading Level:
AD 490 L Lexile
Added Author:
A fictionalized account of how in 1849 a Virginia slave, Henry "Box" Brown, escapes to freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book EASY LEV 1 1
Book EASY LEV 0 1

On Order



A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.

Henry Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday -- his first day of freedom.

Author Notes

Ellen Levine was born in New York City on March 9, 1939. She received a master's degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a law degree from New York University School of Law. She was an attorney for a public-interest law group, a documentary filmmaker, and taught courses in writing for children and young adults in Vermont College's MFA program.

She wrote numerous books for children and young adults during her lifetime including Darkness Over Denmark, I Hate English, Freedom's Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Stories, Rachel Carson: A Twentieth-Century Life, and Henry's Freedom Box. She died from lung cancer on May 26, 2012 at the age of 73.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Levine (Freedom's Children) recounts the true story of Henry Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom. Thanks to Nelson's (Ellington Was Not a Street) penetrating portraits, readers will feel as if they can experience Henry's thoughts and feelings as he matures through unthinkable adversity. As a boy, separated from his mother, he goes to work in his new master's tobacco factory and eventually meets and marries another slave, with whom he has three children. In a heartwrenching scene depicted in a dramatically shaded pencil, watercolor and oil illustration, Henry watches as his family-suddenly sold in the slave market-disappears down the road. Henry then enlists the help of an abolitionist doctor and mails himself in a wooden crate "to a place where there are no slaves!" He travels by horse-drawn cart, steamboat and train before his box is delivered to the Philadelphia address of the doctor's friends on March 30, 1849. Alongside Henry's anguished thoughts en route, Nelson's clever cutaway images reveal the man in his cramped quarters (at times upside-down). A concluding note provides answers to questions that readers may wish had been integrated into the story line, such as where did Henry begin his journey? (Richmond, Va.); how long did it take? (27 hours). Readers never learn about Henry's life as a free man-or, perhaps unavoidably, whether he was ever reunited with his family. Still, these powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story. Ages 4-8. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Primary, Intermediate) In a true story that is both heartbreaking and joyful, Levine recounts the history of Henry ""Box"" Brown, born into slavery. Henry works in a tobacco factory, marries another slave, and fathers three children; but then his family is sold, and Henry realizes he will never see them again. With nothing to lose, Henry persuades his friend James and a sympathetic white man to mail him in a wooden box to Philadelphia and freedom. Levine maintains a dignified, measured tone, telling her powerful story through direct, simple language. A note at the end explains the historical basis for the fictionalized story. Accompanying Levine's fine, controlled telling are pencil, watercolor, and oil paint illustrations by Kadir Nelson that resonate with beauty and sorrow. When Henry's mother holds him as a child on her lap, they gaze out at bright autumn leaves, and the tenderness is palpable, even as she calls to his attention the leaves that ""are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families."" There is no sugarcoating here, and Henry is not miraculously reunited with his wife and children; however, the conclusion, as Henry celebrates his new freedom, is moving and satisfying. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Although the cover shows a young boy staring intently at the reader, this book is really about Henry Brown as an adult and a staggering decision he made to achieve freedom. Henry, born a slave, hears from his mother that leaves blowing in the wind are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families. When his master grows ill, Henry hopes that he will be freed; instead, he is given to his master's son, and his life becomes worse. Eventually, Henry marries and has children; then his family is sold. With nothing left to lose, he asks a white abolitionist to pack him in a crate so he can be mailed to freedom. The journey is fraught with danger as he travels by train and then steamboat, but 27 hours later, he reaches Philadelphia. A brief author's note confirms the details of the story, but it's the dramatic artwork that brings the events emphatically to life. According to the flap copy, an antique lithograph of Brown inspired Nelson's paintings, which use crosshatched pencil lines layered with watercolors and oil paints. The technique adds a certain look of age to the art and also gives the pictures the heft they need to visualize Brown's life. Transcending technique is the humanity Nelson imbues in his characters, especially Brown and his mother--her dream of freedom deferred, his amazingly achieved. --Ilene Cooper Copyright 2007 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-One of the most interesting stories from the Underground Railroad is that of Henry "Box" Brown. Raised a slave, he found a unique way to escape after his wife and children were sold away from him. With the help of friends, he mailed himself to Philadelphia and freedom in a small wooden crate. The 350 mile journey was rife with risk. Ellen Levine tells his tale (Scholastic, 2007) with well-crafted, evocative text, beautifully paired with Kadir Nelson's heart-touching illustrations. These are scanned iconographically, giving viewers the chance to appreciate the finer details of the powerful art, and are brighter and more clearly defined in the film than on the pages of the book. An interview with the author provides additional insight into her research, the Fugitive Slave Law, and her motivation for telling the story. Nicely narrated by Jerry Dixon, with original music and sound effects that help bring the story to life, this Caldecott Honor book is well-served by this presentation. When text, narration, and music combine in a joyous celebration at the end of Henry's journey, viewers will hopefully gain a greater understanding of the value of freedom.-Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary School, Federal Way, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Nelson's powerful portraits add a majestic element to Levine's history-based tale of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who escaped by having himself mailed to freedom in a crate. Depicted as a solemn boy with an arresting gaze on the cover, Henry displays riveting presence in every successive scene, as he grows from child to adult, marries and is impelled to make his escape after seeing his beloved wife and children sold to slaveowners. Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton's Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993). (afterword, reading list) (Picture book. 8-10) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.