Freedom Song – Perfect Picture Book

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown

Sally M. Walker, Author

Sean Qualls, Illustrator

Harper, Jan. 3, 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and Up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, the Underground Railroad

Opening/Synopsis “When Henry Brown came into this world, his family sang.  Mama blew kisses on his soft, brown belly.  Papa named him Henry, held him high to the sky.  Sisters and brothers tickled his toes.  Mama’s cooking grew Henry tall.  Papa’s stories grew Henry smart.  The whole family’s love grew Henry strong.  Even though they were slaves on Master’s plantation. “  As Henry worked in the cotton fields and gardens, he made up workday songs.  At night, he knew about children who were sold.  So he sang a silent freedom song in his head, hoping that his family would stay together.  Henry grew up, and his master sent him to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond.  He met a woman, Nancy, and fell in love.  They married and had four children.  Music and rhythm filled his head.  He sang his songs to his children, and to workers.  One day the master sold his wife and children.  Henry couldn’t save his family.  He felt powerless, and was filled with grief and despair.  He stopped singing.  Only one silent song remained in his heart, his freedom song and “its think, plan, take-yourself-to-freedom-land words were getting stronger every day.”   With the help of secret friends, Henry developed a most unusual plan to escape.

Why I like this story:  This is a remarkable story about one man’s courage and determination to be free.   It is based on the true story of Henry Brown, who was born in 1815, near Richmond, Virginia.  Sally Walker did a lot of research as she wrote Henry’s story.  Her text is captivating and lyrical.  Sean Qualls’ beautiful illustrations capture the mood of Henry’s  journey through laughter, despair and strength.   There is an excellent Author’s Note and a letter to the Anti-Slavery Office in 1849, documenting his extraordinary escape.  The letter is from the Collection of The New York Historical Society.  Activity:  This is an excellent book to discuss during Black History Month.  Here are some helpful activity resources to use in the classroom:  The Freedom Center,  samples of freedom songs that were sung as signal songs by the slaves, and the Underground Railroad.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

55 thoughts on “Freedom Song – Perfect Picture Book

  1. Oh what an inspirational, sad yet hopeful story, Pat. I see it only came out a month ago, and it sounds like it could become very popular. What a sweet front cover in the cotton fields. This is a superb new contribution to African-American history books. Lovely choice!

    • Joanna, I’m glad you liked my selection as I debated whether to release it today. I was intrigued with the “freedom songs” so many slaves sang about their every day lives. They had to be careful so they weren’t heard and punished by the masters. This is a lovely contribution, but another has written a book with a very similar title. I didn’t know that until I researched this one a bit. Will have to check it out. I loved the book.

  2. This sounds like a beautiful story, although sad! I’m glad you shared it, as it is so new I bet lots of people haven’t read it yet and it sounds like it will be a great addition. Thanks so much for sharing it. (And even though I’m leaving in 3 minutes, I came over here specially so I could get your link on the list before I left so hopefully everyone will get over here today to see it! :))

    • Susanna, tt is a beautiful story and I think a great addition to our list. There are so many wonderful books available for Black History Month. They way he chose to escape was unbelievable.

  3. Wow, that text is gorgeous. It’s truly a song in itself. This sounds like a difficult yet important read – thanks so much for sharing it hot off the presses. Beautiful choice!

  4. What a sad story. That would be a good one to teach kids about appreciation of families and freedom. Thanks Pat.

    • Catherine, it wasn’t so sad, but more coreagous. It was very lyrical and I think you’d like it! Yes it is good for kids to appreciate what their relatives endured to gain freedom.

  5. It also packs a powerful message to remind children that will read this book of the kinds of unprivileged lives people of color faced (and to some extent still face) in the world.

    Slavery is such a horrible horrible thing. I have a friend that is black and there are still plenty of issues regarding inequality and racially insensitive remarks made by Republican candidates (Rick Santorum).

    • Christie, I ask my library to order books all the time. They may have it on order, but it hasn’t arrived. I was lucky with this one — I just happento be at the library at the right moment.

    • That has happened to me so many times. But, like you, the librarians know me and they keep an eye open for me when new titles are released. But, this was a chance encounter. It had just gone on the shelf that morning. I was immediately enthralled with the lyrical and musical nature of the book. Actually, our selections were a little similar. Gread minds think a like. 🙂

  6. Thankyou Pat for sharing such a moving story, and so new to. Children need to know of the struggles many had to endure to get to where they are now, to see how lucky they are and to not take so much for granted. A great message, great review.

  7. Sounds wonderful. The stories and history of the Underground Railroad have always fascinated me.
    Great pick Patricia!

    • Thanks Coleen. I’ve always been drawn to the underground railroad since I was a child. In my neighborhod, there was a big mansion sitting on a high hill. It was part of the underground railroad and I often made up stories in my head about secret tunnels in the hill.

  8. This book sounds very much like Henry’s Freedom Box. Is it the same boy?

    So glad you’ve shared a book that’s relevant to Black History month. We are going to be making a list and reading them with the kids.

    • Julie, yes, it is very similar. When I was researching, I ran across it, but haven’t read it. Would like to as I’m curious how different the books are. The one I review definitely picks up on the music aspect. Am curious that Scholastic and Harper published books with similar titles. There are a lot of great books out there. I have several more books I’ve already reviewed that I’ll be releasing during the month — most are PB.

  9. I loved the opening. This book sounds amazing. I know it is for 4 and up — I’m wondering how my daughter (who is turning 5) will react to the thought of slavery. I’m going to have to check this one out! Thanks Patricia!

    • Margaret, you know your daughter. She may handle it okay. But, you may want to first introduce her to “One Million Men and Me” and Belle, the Mule at Gee’s Bend,” and “Chocolate Me!” first and begin to talk about diversity and how African-Americans were treated. Then talk slavery. It just depends on the child. I’m glad you liked it. I’ll be review another book soon, where the slave was loved and considered part of the family, but she still seeks her freedom

  10. What an awesome opening! This book sounds so inspiring. I truly am thankful you chose this book as I had never heard of it. This book is one that needs to be bought and shared through the ages. I so appreciate the well thought out review. 🙂

  11. Oh, I can’t wait to check out this book! My kids have already been doing a lot with Black History Month at school and have been asking a ton of questions. This will be a perfect way for me to supplement at home. Thank you!

    • Amy, I am glad you liked the selection of books for Black History Month. I have a couple more I’m going to review during the month. And, I reviewed two excellent books in January for MLK day that are excellent books, “Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend” and “One Million Men and Me.” Thank you for visiting. – Pat

  12. What a wonderful selection, Patricia!
    I never realized there were so many books out there (well, maybe not SO many, but quite a few) that deal with serious issues like slavery, but are geared and appropriate for very young children! That is awesome. And, as with so many of the books reviewed on PPBF, I feel compelled to read it myself. 🙂

    • Vivian, I am very impressed with the quality and number of books that deal with slavery and African-American history at a kids level. I really liked this book. I read many of the books on the PPB list as they are such good selections. Thanks for stopping

  13. Pingback: Freedom Song – Perfect Picture Book « Children's Books Heal | Children Picture Book

    • Erik, I’m glad you liked my selection. It was hard not to share how he escaped. An southern syle mansion in my neighborhood, was the site of the underground railroad. So as a kid I was very curious and imagined underground tunnels and made up characters in my mind. Also read some books about slaves escaping. Glad you’re interested.

  14. It’s time for me to hit the library again!!!! Seriously! Thank you so much for sharing this book. Another one for the family and classroom book shelf. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this selection on my facebook page 😀

  15. Oh, wow! I am hooked! What an amazing true story! The writing sounds superb and the story engaging and suspenseful. I want to know how it ends! Thank you for sharing this new book, Pat.

  16. Hi Patricia, this looks like a glorious book indeed. I am familiar with quite a number of picture books illustrated by Sean Qualls and I’ve always been amazed with his artwork. I haven’t heard of this book yet though. I shall definitely check it out. 🙂

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