Freedom Song

Freedom Song:
The Story of Henry “Box” Brown

About the Book

Hen­ry “Box” Brown’s inge­nious escape from slav­ery is cel­e­brat­ed for its dar­ing and orig­i­nal­i­ty. Through­out his life, Hen­ry was for­ti­fied by music, fam­i­ly, and a dream of free­dom. When he seemed to lose every­thing, he forged these ele­ments into the song that sus­tained him through the care­ful plan­ning and exe­cu­tion of his per­ilous jour­ney to the North.

Awards and Recognition

  • Chica­go Pub­lic Library Best Books 2012
  • Indi­ana Young Hoosier Award Read­ing List
  • Irma Black Award 2013 semifinalist


“Brown is famous as a slave who had him­self packed into a wood­en box and shipped from Vir­ginia to free­dom in Penn­syl­va­nia…. After dis­cov­er­ing that Brown sang in his church choir, Walk­er … built her sto­ry around the man’s love of music. She imag­ines him as a child, sur­round­ed by a lov­ing fam­i­ly “even though they were slaves on Master’s plan­ta­tion,” mak­ing up songs to help him through the toil of the day: a “work­day song” in the fields, a “gath­er-up song” in the gar­den, then the “free­dom song” he only can sing qui­et­ly at night. As an adult, Brown mar­ries and is dev­as­tat­ed when his wife’s mas­ter sells her and their chil­dren. Incon­solable, he and a white man named Samuel Smith come up with the ship­ping plan. A let­ter from the man who receives the box describes how Brown came out of it and sang a hymn, a fit­ting finale to Walker’s rhyth­mic text. Qualls’s prim­i­tive-style col­lage illus­tra­tions strong­ly con­vey the depth of Brown’s emo­tions.” (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

“… Walk­er, inspired by the dis­cov­ery that Hen­ry Brown sang for many years in a church choir, takes a more poet­ic but equal­ly suc­cess­ful tack, imag­in­ing that rhythm and song sus­tained Brown through­out his years of enslaved labor and inspired him to seek his free­dom when his wife and chil­dren were sold away from Vir­ginia. Walk­er infus­es her text and Brown’s thoughts with pat­terned phras­ing, from the “twist, snap, pick-a-pea” work songs he sang in the fields, to the “free­dom-land, fam­i­ly, stay-togeth­er words” that com­fort­ed him as a child, to the “stay-still, don’t move, wait-to-be-sure words” that kept him silent as he wait­ed for release from his ship­ping crate. Qualls’ mixed-media illus­tra­tions, far more dreamy and styl­ized than Nelson’s near-pho­to­re­al­is­tic ren­der­ings, are nonethe­less an excel­lent match for Walker’s text. Even his sig­na­ture aquas and pinks, embell­ished with free-float­ing bub­bles, are tem­pered with more sober grays, browns, and deep blues, and weight­ed with heav­i­ly tex­tured brush­work. An author’s note touch­es on Walker’s research and what lit­tle is known of Brown’s sub­se­quent his­to­ry; also append­ed is the fas­ci­nat­ing text of a let­ter from Brown’s accom­plice in 1849, detail­ing Brown’s escape and cau­tion­ing the recip­i­ent, “for Heaven’s sake don’t pub­lish this affair or allow it to be pub­lished. It would … pre­vent all oth­ers from escap­ing in the same way.” (Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Children’s Books, starred review)

Freedom Song

writ­ten by Sal­ly M. Walk­er
illus­trat­ed by Sean Qualls
Harper­Collins, Jan 2012
hard­cov­er: 978–0060583101
40 pages, ages 5 and up

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