After losing his family to treacherous slaveholders, Henry “Box” Brown risks his life in an unusual bid for freedom.
Weatherford’s account, written in Brown’s voice, takes readers through his life and times in measured lines of poetry, with one to four poems per spread; most have six lines, like the sides of the box. Poems such as “Work,” “Brutality,” “Nat,” “Laws,” and “Crop” document Brown’s early life as a slave. After he marries Nancy, her master goes back on his promise never to sell her. Brown tries to stay with Nancy through several sales, but when she and their children are finally sold away, never to return, Brown asks, “Lord, what more do I have to lose?” He dreams of freedom and prays for freedom until he is inspired to ship himself in a box to a trustworthy contact up North, where he begins the rest of his life. This lengthy retelling details what life was like for both enslaved and free blacks at this time in U.S. history, as well as the pain and near suffocation Brown suffered on his way to freedom. The poems are set against a white background facing full-page textured paintings featuring stylized figures and patterns reminiscent of quilts. Brown’s story never gets old, and this illustrated biography is rich in context and detail that make it heavier on history and better for slightly older readers than, for instance, Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson’s Henry’s Freedom Box (2007).
Heartbreaking and legendary. (timeline, bibliography, illustrator’s note, author’s note) (Picture book/biography/poetry. 8-12)