Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Black History Month: Henry's Freedom Box

I love reading this book for Black History Month:

You can click on the picture to view the book on Amazon.

From Scholastic, "A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.
Henry Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday, his first day of freedom."
When I read it aloud, we talk about Henry's feelings--as a slave, as someone separated from his family, cramped in a tiny box, as a free man.  The children show a lot of empathy for Henry, in part because because the author includes details that are important to children.

The kids become invested in Henry's story from the beginning, when they find out that Henry doesn't have a birthday. Birthdays are incredibly significant to kids, and when they hear that Henry doesn't know how old he is because slaves don't have birthdays, you hear audible gasps from the students. 

Then they feel for Henry as they watch him getting torn from his mom. They know how hard it is to leave mom for the day when they come to school -- so leaving mom permanently would be terrifying!
As Henry gets older, they see him go to work and get poked by the boss with a stick when he's not being productive enough.  They see him torn from his wife and children.  

Then they watch as Henry is boarded up in a box and turned this way and that as he's mailed to a northern state. I like to have the kids act this part out, and remind them how cramped, scared and alone Henry must be feeling.

Here we are, cramped in our boxes, and stretching out when we arrive at our destination:

Students know how uncomfortable tornado drills are when they have to duck and cover, so they know Henry's trip was unpleasant.  The students are so relieved when Henry makes it to Philadelphia (and when they can get up to stretch)!  They celebrate his first birthday with him. They talk about how they're happy he's free, but they're sad he's free without his family. 

This book is easily adaptable to any grade level and promotes a lot of great discussion.  I hope you read it to your students! 

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