Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX: A True Story from the Underground Railroad"

Title: HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2007
Genre: Picture Book, Historical Fiction, Multicultural
Age Level: 1-3
2008 Caldecott Honor Book

Summary: This book tells the true story of Henry "Box" Freedom. He is sold from his mother as a young slave because his master dies. He works in a factory for his new master and meets Nancy, who becomes his wife. One day, her and his children are sold to another plantation, and Henry is very sad. He decides that he wants to run away and escape to freedom. He comes up with an idea to mail himself in a box to Philadelphia. With the help of a white man who is against slavery, he does. He goes on a journey of 350 miles and has to endure uncomfortable positions and being moved around a lot. He finally makes it to Philadelphia where he is free. He is given the nickname Henry "Box" Freedom.

Response: I absolutely love Kadir Nelson's illustrations, and that is why I was so drawn into reading this book. It tells another great story of escaping slavery. I really love how the story tells historical facts about slavery, as well as puts in the personality of Henry. For example, the book tells at the beginning that Henry does not know how old he is because slaves are not allowed to have birthdays. Kadir Nelson shows the reality and humanity through his portrayal of characters. Henry grows up and goes through a lot of emotions, including great despair when he loses his family. The illustrations are done with pencil lines layered with watercolors and oils. There is a lot of crosshatching done in the pictures, which adds a dimension of texture. The great texture shows how rough the life of slavery can be. I thought it was important to also mention the fact that a lot of the characters are almost blurry, especially those in the background. There is a lot of focus given to Henry's face and the faces of other important characters. The nature backgrounds are also very vibrant and rich in color. When comparing these illustrations to the ones in Moses it is obvious that the atmospheres of the stories are different. Harriet Tubman's story was dark, secretive and very dangerous; therefore, all the pictures are very dark until she reaches freedom. There are a few that are dark in this book, when Henry is upset, but for the most part the story is not nearly as dangerous or dark. There is one page that is different from the rest, and that is when Henry is being moved around in the box. The background of the page is white, which allows for separation of the many scenes where the men are moving him around. It allows for the colors to pop off the page a little bit more. A similarity to the Harriet Tubman story is the different styles of font used for different speakers. For the most part a block-style font is used for the omniscient narrator; however, there are a few lines of text that are italicized showing Henry's thoughts. My favorite picture is the one that is an up-close picture of his face. It is comparable to the one of Harriet Tubman in her story. These are crucial moments in each book as the main character is faced with a great decision. Henry's picture comes right before his family is sold into slavery, as he is working, trying not to think about losing them. There is a light coming in from the window that contrasts with his dark complexion. It is also a sign that even though there are dark times in the near future, he will be able to find happiness when he escapes to freedom. The Author's note at the end of the story is also a great source of information. It talks about Henry's journey being 350 miles and last 27 hours. This fact was really astounding to me because I could not imagine being cramped up for so long. It is a great way to learn historical facts about slavery and the Underground Railroad.

Teaching Ideas: This is another great book to use when teaching children about slavery. It is much more simplistic that Moses, and can be used with children who may be a bit younger. It is more upbeat, as Henry is able to easily escape to freedom in his box. I think that it would be great to discuss with children what they might do to escape freedom. Would they try to run away like Harriet, or would they rather come up with something creative like a freedom box? The lesson about honesty is also in the book. Was Henry honest in sneaking away to freedom? How would they feel if they had lost their families? There is a great site for kids to explore more about the Underground Railroad. Underground Railroad

1 comment:

Dr. Frye said...

You really understand how to write a carefully-crafted critique! Again, you address the illustrations with great-detail! They really are very moving illustrations-Kadir Nelson is one of my favorites! I am pleased to see you point out the differences in light and mood when compared to Moses-well done. Also, it looks like you did a little research on your own by including the links to the Underground Railroad! Bravo Lauren!