Monday, March 5, 2012

Another *Starred Review (BCCB) for Freedom Song

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books - Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown; illus. by Sean Qualls. Harper/HarperCollins, 2012 32p ISBN 978-0-06-058310-1 $17.99 R* 5-8yrs Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson’s Henry’s Freedom Box (BCCB 4/07) sets the bar high for picture books about the Virginia slave who endured pummeling confinement in a crate as he had himself shipped to New York and freedom. Walker, inspired by the discovery that Henry Brown sang for many years in a church choir, takes a more poetic but equally successful tack, imagining that rhythm and song sustained Brown throughout his years of enslaved labor and inspired him to seek his freedom when his wife and children were sold away from Virginia. Walker infuses her text and Brown’s thoughts with patterned phrasing, from the “twist, snap, pick-a-pea” work songs he sang in the fields, to the “freedom-land, family, stay-together words” that comforted him as a child, to the “stay-still, don’t move, wait-to-be-sure words” that kept him silent as he waited for release from his shipping crate. Qualls’ mixed-media illustrations, far more dreamy and stylized than Nelson’s near-photorealistic renderings, are nonetheless an excellent match for Walker’s text. Even his signature aquas and pinks, embellished with free-floating bubbles, are tempered with more sober grays, browns, and deep blues, and weighted with heavily textured brushwork. An author’s note touches on Walker’s research and what little is known of Brown’s subsequent history; also appended is the fascinating text of a letter from Brown’s accomplice in 1849, detailing Brown’s escape and cautioning the recipient, “for Heaven’s sake don’t publish this affai or allow it to be published. It would . . . prevent all others from escaping in the same way.” EB

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