Sunday, July 15, 2012


I am always on the hunt for great intermediate grade picture books, especially those that I can use for science or social studies. I found a terrific new one during this week's visit to the library.

FREEDOM SONG: THE STORY OF HENRY BOX BROWN by Sally M. Walker is the story of Henry Brown, a slave who was born in 1815. Brown grew up on a tobacco plantation in Virginia. Sally Walker uses the metaphor of song to trace Henry's life from childhood until he is an adult. Listen to the musicality of her writing:
Mama's cooking grew Henry tall. Papa's stories grew Henry smart. The whole family's love grew Henry strong.
As Henry worked 'neath Virginia's hot sun, he sang his workday song. it's lift, tote, toss-the sack words sent strength to his arms.
 As a young man, he was sent to work in a tobacco factory. There music soothed his homesickness, and there he met Nancy, the woman who would become his wife, and the mother of their four children.
Henry was papa proud when his first child was born. He named his son, held him high to the sky.  at night, Henry sang him a cradle song. Its low, restful, close-your-eyes words rocked the baby to sleep.
One day when Henry was at work, a friend came to tell him that Nancy and his four children had been sold.  Henry chased them down, but was unable to stop his family from being taken away.
Henry did still have a song. His freedom song. And it's think, plan, take-yourself-to-freedom-land  words were getting stronger every day.
After Brown's family was sold, he became determined to escape. He built a box (approximately 3 ft. X 2 ft. x 2 ft) and with the help of an underground railroad conductor, shipped himself to freedom. Brown endured a bumpy wagon ride, the heat of a train car, and then a ride on a steamship. At several points, he was upside down, one time for twenty miles. Brown arrived safely at his destination (Don't miss the author's notes, which include a letter from James McKim, who received Henry's box at the Anti-Slavery Office in New York). Sadly, no one knows if he was ever reunited with his wife and children.

Sean Qualls' illustrations done mostly in blues, browns, blacks, and golds, are absolutely perfect. They kind of seem a cross between two other favorite picture books, BUSING BREWSTER and UNDERGROUND. 

Definitely a book to add to your collection of picture books for intermediate grade (or middle or hishg school )students, or to a study of the Underground Railroad. This would also be a great mentor text for helping kids to understand the importance of listening to how your writing sounds.  A terrific read!

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