An antique lithograph of Henry “Box” Brown, created by Samuel Rowse in 1850, inspired Kadir Nelson’s paintings for this book. To give the feel of the original lithograph, Mr. Nelson crosshatched pencil lines, and then applied layers of watercolor and oil paint. The illustrations are haunting and powerful.
Henry is born into a life of slavery, however he and his family consider themselves fortunate to be working for a master who is good to them. The life of a slave is uncertain, and when the master becomes ill, young Henry is torn from his family and sent away to work in the son’s tobacco factory. Henry, accepting his separation, works hard and is good at his job. Years go by and Henry meets Nancy, a slave. They marry and have three children. Once again Henry appears to be lucky because even though he and his wife have different masters they are allowed to live together. Then fate deals Henry another devastating blow. Without warning, Nancy’s master sells Henry’s family. Nelson’s two-page spread, illustrating their separation is a moving portrayal of the family’s fear, anguish and desperation.
Henry overcome with grief and deeply depressed, realizes that he will never see his family again. Weeks go by and his desire to be free is all consuming. While lifting a crate, he decides to mail himself to freedom. He enlists the help of an abolitionist doctor to seal him in a crate and ship him to Philadelphia. His incredible journey via horse-drawn cart, train and steamship in cramped quarters is illustrated through creative cutaway images. Henry finally arrives safely in Philadelphia on March 30, 1849. The crate is opened and Henry celebrates his birthday—his first day of freedom!
This 2008 Caldecott Honor Book tells a story of extraordinary courage and determination. Henry’s 350 mile, twenty-seven hour journey from Richmond, VA made newspaper headlines across the United States and Europe. Henry “Box” Brown was known as one of the most famous runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.