Title: Freedom Song: the story of Henry "Box" Brown
Author: Sally M. Walker
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Publisher: Harper Collins
Word Count: 2018 (includes a wordy Author's Note and historical letter)
Top 10 Element: Plot
I am participating in Picture Books 14:14, a challenge created by Christie of Write Wild that encourages bloggers to review 14 picture books in 14 days, starting on Feb. 14th.
Freedom Song tells the true story of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom in 1849. This story is one of several that I shared each year with my fourth graders when they were studying American History, the Underground Railroad, and the lead-up to the Civil War.
Analysis: PlotThe basics of plot are well-known, and the story mountain, shown below, is one way of formulating them. The story begins with an introduction: we meet our characters and the general situation. Quickly, the problem sets the story in motion; the rising action or important events start piling up; and the climax brings us the big moment or turning point before the ending wraps up with a solution or lesson (denouement for the older students).
|This formulation of the story mountain is the one I use with my students.|
Freedom Song opens with the birth of Henry Brown and introduces his family. The first hints of the problem arrives at the end of the second spread: "The whole family's love grew Henry strong. Even though they were slaves on Master's plantation." The illustrations echo this pronouncement, as there is a small silhouette of the Master visible through the open window of the family's cozy-appearing home.
The full problem does not arrive until several pages later. Now, through the rising action, Henry has grown, married, and is a proud papa of several children. A friend rushes into work to inform Henry that his wife and children have been sold by the master.
Henry's solution, after much deliberation, is to mail himself to freedom in a shipping box. His journey within the box covers more than 9 pages (one single page and four two-page spreads) until we reach the dramatic climax - the lid is pried off the box, and Henry finds himself safely in Philadelphia.
The ending is swift. Henry is free, but the Author's Note brings home the rest of the historical information. There is no evidence that Henry was able to find, free, or be reunited with his beloved wife and children.
This book is a powerful one to share with kids. Every year, several of my fourth graders picked Henry's story to analyze for our literary essay unit, and each one was able to find incredible insights in this amazing true story.
If you haven't read it, you should also check out the Caldecott Honor winning Henry's Freedom Box (2007) by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Want more picture book analyses? Click here to read my other posts for Picture Books 14:14 or check out these other great posts for the Picture Book 14:14 Challenge going on the rest of this month.