School Library Journal
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Gr 1-3-Brown is famous as a slave who had himself packed into a wooden box and shipped from Virginia to freedom in Pennsylvania. His story has been told by Virginia Hamilton in Many Thousand Gone (Knopf, 1993) and in Ellen Levine's Henry's Freedom Box (Scholastic, 2007). After discovering that Brown sang in his church choir, Walker took a different approach and built her story around the man's love of music. She imagines him as a child, surrounded by a loving family "even though they were slaves on Master's plantation," making up songs to help him through the toil of the day: a "workday song" in the fields, a "gather-up song" in the garden, then the "freedom song" he only can sing quietly at night. As an adult, Brown marries and is devastated when his wife's master sells her and their children. Inconsolable, he and a white man named Samuel Smith come up with the shipping plan. A letter from the man who receives the box describes how Brown came out of it and sang a hymn, a fitting finale to Walker's rhythmic text. Qualls's primitive-style collage illustrations strongly convey the depth of Brown's emotions.-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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In a loose, poetic narrative tracing the life of Henry Brown, a Virginia slave who mailed himself to freedom, Walker (Blizzard of Glass) underscores what song meant to Henry. Working in the cotton fields, "he sang his workday song. Its lift, tote, toss-the-sack words sent strength to his arms." Most dear to him is his "freedom song," which "soothed Henry's greatest fear" that he would be separated from his family. Years later, Henry is devastated when their master sells off his wife and young children. Encouraged by his freedom song and the hope that there were "folks in freedom-land" who could help him locate his family, Henry enlists the aid of a white shopkeeper to execute his daring escape. Dominated by subdued blues and browns, Qualls's (Giant Steps to Change the World) artwork exudes his familiar folk art-like quality, with floating circles of various colors and patterns serving as a visual metaphor for the hope Henry's song represents. Excerpts from a letter written by the Philadelphia abolitionist who received Henry's box lend a haunting veracity to this harrowing account. Ages 4-8. Author and illustrator's agent: Writers House. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Much admired for her well-researched history and science nonfiction titles, Walker here explores the life of a slave who famously made his escape to freedom by squeezing into a crate bound for Philadelphia. As revealed in the author's note, Walker was intrigued by the role song played in Brown's life, and her affecting, homespun narrative imagines how singing helped him endure extreme hardship: As Henry worked 'neath Virginia's hot sun, he sang his workday song. Its lift, tote, toss-the-sack words sent strength to his arms. Like Ellen Levine's Henry's Freedom Box (2007), Walker's text touches on Brown's childhood and his heartrending separation from his wife and children, but much of the book is devoted to the claustrophobia-inducing details of the slave's incredible escape. Qualls' acrylic, pencil, and collage artwork, featuring a somber palette of black, brown, and blue, is particularly well suited to the subject, and the dynamically composed illustrations ratchet up the drama of this heroic tale.--McKulski, Kristen Copyright 2010 Booklist