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.
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