Saturday, April 23, 2011
Eliza's Freedom Road, written by Jerdine Nolen. Simon & Schuster, 2011. $17.99 ages 8 and up
There are not many Underground Railroad stories that were written specifically for a younger audience...this diary would be a 'just right' introduction for them. It is Eliza's story. She is twelve years old and on her own in her master's house. No father. Her mother was recently sold, and Eliza does not know if she will ever see her again. Her most prized possession is a quilt that her mother made for her. In its patches are representations of the stories that Mama shared with her daughter; two of the twelve are left open for those stories that will belong to Eliza. It gives Eliza solace when she is full of grief over the loss of her mother's gentle, loving presence.
Eliza's life is uncertain. She has been taught to read and write by her ailing mistress. It keeps Eliza safe for the most part; but she is never totally relaxed, knowing that her master might sell her at any moment. When she accompanies her mistress on a visit to Maryland, she is able to let down her guard. While there and watching her mistress become steadily worse, Eliza learns that there is a chance for escape. With guidance from an old friend she sets out alone on the arduous journey to freedom. With the help of Harriet Tubman and other good people she is able to make the trek north, where a surprise awaits.
Interspersed throughout the text are the beloved stories that were told to Eliza by her mother. Eliza writes them in her journal so that she will never forget them. Eliza has inherited her mother's storytelling gift, and is always willing to entertain. Children will come away from the reading of her diary with a better understanding of the workings of the Underground Railroad, hopefully allowing them to give up a misguided interpretation of a railway that travels under the ground to safety. Eliza is a strong character, whose bravery and will carry her through difficult days on her journey north to freedom in Canada.
Backmatter includes an Author’s Note, Notes on the Stories, a Bibliography, and a long and detailed list of useful websites.