Eliza's Freedom Road by Jerdine Nolen
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. They fit all the scenes seamlessly. The stories were also great reprieve for Eliza and the others seeking freedom. In the author notes, Nolen talks briefly about all the stories, including the Flying People and How the Stars Came Into the Sky.
read chapter one