Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Journal

Author: Jendine Nolen
Publisher/Format: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, e-galley-160 pages
Characters: Eliza,
Subject: slavery, Underground Railroad
Setting: Virginia, Maryland, New York, Canada

Genre: fictional memoir

Source: Advanced e-galley from Publisher (publication date slated 1-4-11)

This book is specifically written for young adults about ages 9-12.  I wanted to see if it was something my grand-daughter, who is 10, would be interested in and able to read.  It's perfect!  Eliza is an 11 year old slave living in Virginia when she begins her diary. Taught to read by a very enlightened mistress who was losing her sight, she begins the journal as a way of coping with the loss of her mother who had been sold to another plantation.

She gives us a simple but realistic picture of what life was like for young slave women in the period 1855 to 1867. While her mistress is gentle and kind, the master is not, and Eliza lives in constant fear of being ripped away from her remaining friends. The author uses the journal genre to show the process by which the "Friends", led by Harriet Tubman,  were able to lead many escaped slaves on a journey from Virginia north to freedom in Canada via the 'underground railroad.' The process involved many dangerous escapades, much privation, and all too often, the painful lifetime parting from friends and relatives.

Before her mother left, Eliza's mother gave her daughter a picture quilt containing 12 squares.  Each of the first 10 squares contained a 'story' which she told her daughter, and which Eliza repeated many times to reinforce it in her memory and to relate to others.  The final two squares were left blank, so that Eliza could complete them with her own story when she got old enough.  Her mother even left her a piece of blue satin cloth -material to be used to show a 'freedom-blue' sky.  Eliza telling of these stories is interspersed throughout the book, and serve as examples of how slaves coped with their lives. For instance Eliza used the story of the fox and the rooster in a barnyard to help quiet a young boy's fears about a fox getting into a henhouse, and whether he'd be blamed.  Another square shows Moses leading his people away from Pharoah to the promised land, a story often repeated and relished by American slaves.

The story is perfectly written for young adults who can relate to the emotions of the age. It will help them become acquainted with the hardships endured by earlier citizens of this country, and the bravery of many to overcome this institution. Additional material in the book includes synopses and background of the stories Eliza weaves into the material, and several other suggested readings to help young readers learn more about the era.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster Galley Grab for making this available. Please note that the cover shown here may not be the final cover on the release.


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