Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Henry’s Freedom Box is a powerful and poignant children’s book written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This heartwarming true story follows the life of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who devises a daring and ingenious plan to escape to freedom.

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad

Why should I read Henry’s Freedom Box to my class?

Reading Henry’s Freedom Box to your class can offer several educational and emotional benefits:

  1. Historical Understanding: The book provides a powerful and age-appropriate introduction to the history of slavery in the United States. It helps students understand the challenges faced by individuals like Henry during that time.
  2. Empathy Development: Henry’s story can evoke empathy among students as they connect with his experiences of separation from family and the desire for freedom. It encourages discussions about emotions and understanding others’ perspectives.
  3. Character Education: The book presents strong themes of resilience, determination, and bravery. These character traits are valuable for young students to explore and discuss, fostering a sense of character education and personal growth.

what is this book about?

Henry was a slave, along with the rest of his family. When their master was dying, he called for Henry and his mother. Henry’s heart beat fast as he approached his master. He hoped he would be set free. Instead, the master gave Henry to his son. He was taken from his family and sent to work in a tobacco factory.

Henry’s Freedom Box is a great read-aloud for 2nd – 5th grade. Here is a link to a YouTube video of the story.

Teaching character traits

This story is perfect for talking about empathy and character traits. When students know the story is based on a real person, it helps them to connect more easily. Here are some activities to do with your class.

  1. Role-Playing: Divide students into small groups and assign each group a scene from the book. Ask them to act out the scene, emphasizing the character traits of the individuals involved.
  2. Character Interviews: Have students imagine they are journalists interviewing Henry. Ask them to come up with questions that focus on his character traits and have them answer as if they were Henry.
  3. Character Traits Writing: Encourage students to write a short paragraph describing Henry’s character traits. They should provide evidence from the book to support their descriptions.
  4. Character Comparison: Have students compare and contrast the character traits of Henry with another character from the book. They can create a Venn diagram or a written comparison.

10 thought-provoking questions for Henry’s Freedom box

  1. What did Henry use to make his freedom box, and why was it important?
  2. How did Henry feel when he discovered he would be sold away from his family?
  3. Can you name one character in the story who helped Henry on his journey to freedom?
  4. What challenges did Henry face when he was inside the freedom box?
  5. Why do you think Henry chose to mail himself to a place where slavery was not allowed?
  6. How did Henry feel when he finally reached the free state?
  7. If you were in Henry’s shoes, what item would you pack in your freedom box and why?
  8. How did Henry’s determination and bravery help him achieve freedom?
  9. Can you think of a time when you had to be brave, just like Henry?
  10. What important lesson can we learn from Henry’s story about freedom and equality?

Henry’s Freedom Box Book Extention activities

You might like this resource if you’re looking for more activities for this book. There are six, no-prep digital activities for this story.  A video link is included in the product in case you don’t have access to the book.

Read aloud book activities for Henry's Freedom Box.

The eight vocabulary cards have a kid-friendly definition, a sentence with an image, and synonyms. The cards are printable and would be great to post in your classroom for future reference. The first Google slide that the students see is a video presentation of the vocabulary words.

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Four of the six activities are Google Slides. First, students complete the order of events activity. After they finish, they use the secret code to crack a code word. Next, there is a nonfiction passage about the Underground Railroad. There is audio for the passage and the questions. Up next is vocabulary practice. Students match each vocabulary word to its synonym. the last slide is determining if the highlighted noun is common or proper.


Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

The last two of the activities are Google Forms. Students read, audio is included, a sentence from the story, and determine how the character might have felt. Then they answer 10 multiple-choice questions about the story.

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
Black history read aloud activities for Henry's Freedom Box.

You can find these activities here:


Henry's Freedom Box activities and lessons.

 If you are teaching biographies or historical fiction, you might like this post about Snowflake Bentley.

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad