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.
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