A Slave with a Birthday

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A SlaveWith A Birthday: An Analysis of
Positive African American Portrayals in Henry’s Freedom Box Felicia Palacios
California State University, Sacramento

An English art critic John Ruskin once said, “Some slaves are scoured to their work by whips, others by their restlessness and ambition.” In the children’s picture book Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Ruskin may be proven right. This historical bibliography, published in 2007 by Scholastic Press, exposes children to slavery in its most potent era, where a young slave named Henry “BOX” Brown is stripped away from his family not only once but twice. Henry Brown was a slave. Since he was a slave he did not have a birthday. His mother had explained to him that slave children can be taken away from their families, and one day Henry was torn away from his family after their master died. Henry worked in his new master’s factory. He was lonely, but one day he met a woman named Nancy. They married after the approval of their two masters and had children together. Unfortunately, because of the discrimination amongst African Americans Henry’s own children were torn away from him and sold at the slave market. After numerous dramatic events Henry grew restless. He continued to go to work, but it could not erase the emptiness he had. One day Henry thought about being free, but how he thought. He came up with the bright idea of mailing himself to a place where there were no slaves. Henry’s Freedom Box offers a historically accurate example of an African American during slavery; several elements of this picture book depict the portrayal of the African American heritage at the time of this era. The narrative of this picture book is a biography that has great examples of what slaves had endured both good and bad. Within the narrative Levine expresses the technical aspects that slaves are not free, they are colored, and are sometimes sold. A positive feature of the narrative is that...
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