Box is the remarkable true story of one man’s bold plan to free himself from slavery.
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood. Candlewick, 2020, 56 pages.
Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 10-up
I was a slave because my countrymen had made it lawful, in utter contempt of the declared will of heaven, for the strong to lay hold of the weak and to buy and sell them as marketable goods.From Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, quoted in Box.
When he finally had the opportunity to write his autobiography, Henry Brown had already overcome near-impossible odds. Born a slave in 1815, in the heart of the “Old Dominion,” he had little hope of ever rising beyond endless field work. Though his master was relatively benign, Henry witnessed the mistreatment of slaves on nearby plantations, and the threat of being sold hung over every tomorrow. He was separated from his mother and siblings at the age of 15, and much later from his own wife and children. After several masters and many sorrowful separations, Henry conceives of a bold plan: he pays a carpenter to construct a box barely big enough for a 200-lb. man. Then convinces a white friend to see that he is shipped to Philadelphia–and freedom. The days-long journey is fraught with danger, but What have I to fear?/ . . . The breath of life is all I have to lose./And bondage is suffocating me.
Carole Boston Weatherford tells this remarkable true story in first-person, blank verse poems, each composed of six lines (referencing the six sides of a box). Through these impressionistic verses with one-word titles, the reader catches glimpses not just of Henry’s story , but of the historical context and everyday life of the time. The text also emphasizes Henry’s Christian faith and comfort in God’s word, even or especially during the worst of his troubles. The mixed-media illustrations are vivid and fluid (notice especially the use of square, crosses, and boxes throughout). This is a tough read for younger children, but more mature readers will gain a deeper understanding of the twisted history of American slavery and the meaning of “free indeed.”
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Worldview/moral value: 4.75
Artistic/literary value: 4.25
Also at Redeemed Reader
- Carole Boston Weatherford has written several excellent picture books on black history. We’ve reviewed By and By: Charles Albert Tindley and The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights. We’ve given starred reviews to Freedom on Congo Square and How Sweet the Sound: the Story of Amazing Grace. For older readers, see our review of You Can Fly: the Tuskeegee Airmen.
- See our starred review of Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution.
We are participants in the Amazon LLC affiliate program; purchases you make through affiliate links like the one below may earn us a commission. Read more here.
Support our writers and help keep Redeemed Reader ad-free.