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BLAST Elementary
Henry's Freedom Box

Henry's Freedom Box

Henry's Freedom Box
Written by Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

A fictionalized account of how in 1849 a Virginia slave, Henry "Box" Brown, escapes to freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia.


Open-Ended Questions

These questions can be used during an interactive read aloud to engage student interest.

  • Why do you think slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays? (page 1)
  • Why does Henry feel like singing? (page 12)
  • What do you think Henry will do now? (page 21)
  • How else did slaves use the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom? (page 24)
  • Is mailing yourself like this a good idea?  What dangers are there? (page 25)
  • What challenges do you think Henry will face now that he’s free?  (page 37)

Vocabulary Words

  • Beckoned
  • Pried


Vocabulary Quilt

During the time of slavery, quilts were created to tell stories and depict historical events that happened in a slave’s life.  Create an Underground Railroad vocabulary word wall in the form of a quilt.  On each patch of the quilt place an Underground Railroad term such as, “conductor" or "safe house”.  Have the students research a short definition of each term and illustrate each patch accordingly.  For example, “Safe house—a place slaves could go to find food and shelter”, could be illustrated with a house.

Finding the Volume of a Box

In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Henry Brown describes his box as being, “Two feet eight inches deep, two feet wide, and three feet long.” Using this information, help students calculate the volume of the box Henry Brown used for his escape. Challenge students with the task of determining how much volume they would consume in a box and how large of a box they would need to ship themselves.


Journal Questions

  • Write a newspaper article that tells the details of how Henry escaped from slavery.
  • Imagine you are Henry and you have just entered the box that will take you to freedom. How do you feel? What are you thinking about?

Extending Books

The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom

The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom
Written by Bettye Stroud
Illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett

While her father leads her toward Canada and away from the plantation where they have been slaves, a young girl thinks of the quilt her mother used to teach her a code that will help guide them to freedom.


Escape North: The Story of Harriet Tubman

Escape North: The Story of Harriet Tubman
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Teresa Flavin

Surveys the life of Harriet Tubman, including her childhood in slavery and her later work in helping other slaves escape north to freedom through the Underground Railroad.


Under the Quilt of Night

Under the Quilt of Night
Written by Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by James E. Ransome

A young girl flees from the farm where she has been worked as a slave and uses the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom in the north.


The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad
Written by Ann Heinrichs




Ain't Nobody a Stranger to Me

Ain't Nobody a Stranger to Me
Written by Ann Grifalconi
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

This story spotlights both the loving rapport between a girl and her grandfather, and the story of his family's escape to freedom.


Night Boat to Freedom

Night Boat to Freedom
Written by Margot Theis Raven
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

At the request of his fellow slave Granny Judith, Christmas John risks his life to take runaways across a river from Kentucky to Ohio.
* Based on slave narratives recorded in the 1930s