This book tells the story of Henry Brown, who, in 1849 at age 34, escaped from slavery by having himself mailed from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia in a box 3 feet long by 2 feet 8 inches deep by 2 feet wide, labeled as “dry goods.” (Henry enlisted the help of his choir-member friend, a free black who knew a white sympathizer. The sympathizer in turn contacted a white abolitionist of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society for help on the other end.) Henry traveled 350 miles in the box, in a nail-biting trip that took twenty-seven hours. Henry “Box” Brown became one of the most famous escaped slaves, and his story remains incredibly inspirational.
Weatherford has chosen to tell Henry’s story in poetic verse as if written in his own voice. All but one of the poems has six lines making a “sexain,” reflecting the cubic structure of a box.
Each sexain has a title that both summarizes the poem and puts the slave experience in sharp relief. Henry experiences “Brutality,” “Fear,” and “Hell,” but also “Friends,” “Church,” and “Courage.” The final sexain makes for a powerful and apt coda to this story in particular, and to the American story in general:
Colorful mixed-media collages by artist Michele Wood evoke quilts that also reflect the box theme. In an Illustrator’s Note, Wood explains that she chose a palette based on colors predominant in the 1800s.
A timeline, notes, and bibliography are included in this book recommended for ages 7 and up.
Evaluation: The author and the illustrator each have won many awards. This particular book won the 2021 Newberry Honor. Besides the amazing story of Henry, both the writing style and artwork give teachers opportunities to expand on the lessons of the book.
In fact, because of the rich educational possibilities of this book, it is part of the Black Creators Series. Presented by Candlewick Press and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University and hosted by Sonja Cherry-Paul, the Black Creators Series is an educator-focused virtual speakers’ series that highlights the work of Black authors and illustrators. You can watch each new episode on the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Facebook page here.
Published by Candlewick Press, 2020