BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom

Candlewick. Apr. 2020. 56p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763691561.
Gr 4 Up–Weatherford shares the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who was born into slavery in Richmond in the 1800s. Brown’s birth family was divided after the death of their master. Later, Brown’s pregnant wife and three children were sold and sent to North Carolina. In 1849, the same year Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery, Brown shipped himself in a wooden box to the American Anti-Slavery Society office in Philadelphia, successfully winning his freedom. Brown, given the nickname “Box” by abolitionists, promoted his escape by publishing an autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown. He created a performance piece (“Mirror of Slavery”) that he exhibited in the United States, England, and Canada, solidifying his place in American history. Brown’s story is conveyed in a series of sixains (a poem of six lines), mirroring the six sides of a box. Each poem is deceptively simple, but Weatherford’s lush storytelling allows Brown’s voice and story to come through clearly. The imagery is often as brutal as the history itself, and Brown is portrayed as a nuanced and complex human being, willing to do what is necessary to survive. Wood’s mixed-media illustrations are dynamic and engaging. The details urge a second or third reading of the text. Bibliography and notes from the author and illustrator are included.
VERDICT An artful and introspective retelling of the life of a remarkable man and a painful era in U.S. history. Weatherford’s text paired with Wood’s illustrations combine to offer a memorable work of nonfiction.

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