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Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary Hardcover – January 4, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 4-7-As she turns 12, Eliza is a Virginia house slave, increasingly responsible for the care of the ailing mistress who taught her to read and write. Since Sir sold her mother a year earlier, Eliza has only motherly cook Abbey, the discarded diary Abbey encourages her to write in, and a story quilt her mother made. When the mistress takes Eliza along to stay with family in Maryland, Eliza learns of the Underground Railroad from fellow slaves and a found stack of newspapers containing the serialized Uncle Tom's Cabin. With the help of a shadowy Harriet Tubman herself, Eliza escapes to freedom in Ontario, where by chance she reunites with her mother. Presented as the girl's diary published later by the adult Elizabeth, the narrative suffers from thin characterizations and awkward pacing resulting from sometimes forced pauses to record her mother's stories. While the writing is peppered with salient details of slave life and the times, Eliza experiences little of the brutality and, more important, the difficult choices, fleshed-out relationships, and internal struggles that humanize Patricia McKissack's Clotee in A Picture of Freedom (Scholastic, 1997), Jennifer Armstrong's Bethlehem in Steal Away (Orchard Books, 1992), or Elisa Carbone's real-life Ann Marie Weems in Stealing Freedom (Knopf, 1998). More didactic than authentic, Eliza's story serves as an effective vehicle to relate and contextualize 10 important folktales and Bible stories that were woven through the slave experience, though readers may wish for a more fully realized narrative holding those stories together.-Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

Eliza, you can read and write. . . . That makes you bigger than even the man who tries to keep you a Slave.� As chronicled in her diary, in 1855, 12-year-old Eliza chooses to run from the cruel master who sold away her mother when it becomes clear that he intends to sell Eliza, too. Motivated by the support of fellow slaves and a certain Underground Railroad conductor�s siren song, Eliza follows the North Star from Alexandria, Virginia, to St. Catherine�s, Ontario. Inspired in part by Chaucer�s The Canterbury Tales, Nolen integrates ubiquitous slave narratives into the story, including �The People Who Could Fly� and the biblical account of Moses. Eliza is a commanding storyteller, drawing on an oral tradition aided by her mother�s story quilt, which is pictured at the book�s beginning. Fans of American Girl�s Addy books will enjoy this, and readers hungry for more African American folklore will find Virginia Hamilton�s Her Stories (1995) an excellent companion. Included are notes on the featured stories as well as an extensive bibliography. Grades 3-6. --Courtney Jones
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 670L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416958142
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416958147
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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The characters were likeable and storyline was believable.
Aunt Deb
This is truly a must read for all and a great addition of to middle school curriculum nationwide.
Jodell Sadler
The stories were also great reprieve for Eliza and the others seeking freedom.
DAC

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Name me all the films you can that involve slaves escaping via The Underground Railroad. No? Okay then, I'll make it easy on you. Name me a single film, just one, that involves slaves escaping via The Underground Railroad. No? Crazy, isn't it? Here we have what must be one of the most heroic and harrowing real life escape stories in the history of our country, and Hollywood can't be bothered to put a single such tale to celluloid. Now in the world of children's literature, The Underground Railroad is a common topic to write on. Books about it abound, though interestingly enough there isn't a single Underground Railroad novel that eclipses all the others. Maybe that's why folks keep writing them. The latest I've seen recently is "Eliza's Freedom Road". It's penned by the former picture book author Jerdine Nolen and features a very basic, very straightforward story of one girl escaping to freedom in Canada with some help. If you are looking for a good introductory novel that introduces not just the concept of slavery but also the definition of what The Underground Railroad even was, this slim little book may prove your best chance to do so. It covers familiar ground but reaches a slightly younger audience.

Twelve-year-old Eliza is on her own. No mother. No father. Her mother, you see, was recently sold away to another state, so Eliza spends her days with Abby the cook. She has her mother's stories, sewn into patches on a special quilt, and that comforts her but it's not enough. Eliza's greatest fear is that she might get sent away too, a fear that is more than justified due to the nasty looks she gets from her master. Years ago her mistress taught Eliza to read and write and now relies on the girl to read to her from the newspaper and books.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jodell Sadler on December 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is truly a must read for all and a great addition of to middle school curriculum nationwide. Listening, first-hand, to the letters and stories of Eliza on her road to freedom will engage learners. If teachers want to provide a means for even their most reluctant readers to be engaged in the concept of "freedom" and the "underground railroad" from one slave's perspective, this is the book for them. I would love to read essays created by children after reading title: Eliza speaks speaks directly to them. Purchase this title in bulk for your school library... gift it to a child... and really expand their understanding of a world when "Freedom" meant a great deal to those who had to fight or take flight to gain it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Tanenbaum VINE VOICE on February 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In her first novel for middle grade readers, author Jerdine Nolen presents a fictional diary of a 12-year old slave in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1854, as she escapes to freedom in Canada through the help of the Underground Railroad. Much like Scholastic's Dear America series, the story is told in diary entries that take place over the course of a year.

Eliza is not an ordinary slave; at a time when it was against the law for slaves to learn to read and write, she was taught by her mistress to do so. But it is not her mistress but fellow house slave Abbey who gives Eliza the unused diary Mistress had thrown away, along with two lead pencils. But she knows she must write in it in secret, far from the eyes of Sir, the plantation's cruel owner. Eliza's mother has been sold away, leaving her with only her memories and a beloved story quilt to remember her by. This quilt has twelve panels, each symbolizing a different story her mother loved to tell, including two blank squares, for Eliza to quilt her own stories on. Eliza's own narrative is peppered with her mother's stories, some of which have African roots, others coming from the Bible.

Because she reads the newspaper to her nearly-blind Mistress, Eliza is more aware than most slaves of the unrest in the country over slavery, and learns through the paper about the underground railroad. She wonders what that could be. "Do they mean departure by an underground railroad train? Is there a way they escaped on a train that runs under the ground? I want to know how to find that train station. I want to know how to get three tickets: one for Abbey, one for Mama, one for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By DAC VINE VOICE on January 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Nolen has written several picture books which I've loved. Raising Dragons and Thunder Rose are two of my favorites. Eliza Freedom Road is her middle grade debut and it's a very good one.

Set in 1854 11 yr old Eliza is a slave on a Virginia plantation. The plantation owner sold Eliza's mother without giving the two a chance to say good. Eliza is looked after by Abbey, who is responsible for the kitchen. Eliza knows how to read and write and Abbey encourages her to keep a diary. The mistress of the house isn't well and it's Eliza's job to look after her. When the mistress goes to stay with her sister in Baltimore Eliza's goes too. Eliza is scared about her future if she returns to the plantation in Virginia. Rather then worry about being sold again Eliza decides to make her way alone to freedom.

Eliza's mother was a gifted story teller, that gift has been passed down. Weaved within the journal entries, are the stories Eliza's tells to people on her quest for freedom. The quilt Eliza is holding on the cover was given to Eliza by her mother, each patch represents a different story. There are two empty spaces for Eliza to add her own stories.

I really enjoyed the straightforward telling of Eliza's Freedom Road. I also appreciated that mistress wasn't portrayed as a kind hearted soul who Eliza would become attached to. It's no secret that there are a lot of middle grade novels set during the civil war era. Yet it can still be difficult to find one that would be appropriate for a young reader you is just being introduced to the history slavery in the U.S. With each new diary entry, the reader gets to know Eliza and her situation a little better. Therefore allowing a reader to better understand slavery.

I loved the stories intertwined within the diary entries.
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