Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary

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Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary

History comes alive in the voice of Eliza, a slave in Alexandria, Virginia in 1854. Eliza's mother, Jane Mae, a master storyteller, has been sold away by Sir leaving Eliza under the protective wing of Abbey, mistress's cook. Eliza is left to serve the mistress who is very ill and going blind and it is only she who stands between her husband, Sir, and Eliza's being sold away from everyone and everything she knows and loves.

The mistress has taught Eliza how to read and write and those powerful tools along with Abbey's gift of the mistress's "never been used writing diary" give her a treasure chest for exploring her understandings and her slowly emerging dreams. Mistress tells her "I taught you to talk and read...and it is my gift for me because I own you." The simple daily tasks and events of Eliza's life are intertwined with the lively, colorful stories captured in the story quilt her mother gave her. The mistress flees with Eliza to her sister's home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and there Eliza sees a woman known as The Conductor.

In her diary entries Eliza shares the fears of Sir's moods, the endurance of Abbey who works all day in the tobacco fields during planting time and still needs to prepare the evening meal at day's end and the tension she feels as she watches the mistress getting weaker and weaker and knows that Sir waiting for the end to come. In short diary entries we hear the pieces of Eliza's story. We experience the fear, hope for the courage, and walk with her as she heads north to freedom and a world where her life can be her own. Refreshing in its simplicity, its rich storytelling and the authenticity of the voice of Eliza. 160 pages Ages 8-11

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Through the voice of Eliza, a twelve year old slave, the daily life of a house slave is shared in her diary entries.  Eliza has no family left on a plantation in Alexandria, Virginia and is supervised by the cook, Abbey.  She has kept her mother's quilt as a physical memento and her mother's stories as an emotional gift.  When the master plans to sell some slaves including Eliza, she decides to escape to freedom.  Her preparations include her mother's quilt, some food and her diary.  Another slave, Old Joe, gives her important advice - travel by night and sleep during the day, find safe houses with candlelight in a window and follow Harriet, a conductor.  The trip will be long from Maryland to Canada.

Slaves are afraid of learning to read and write since there are prohibitions and laws.  Eliza chooses to record her mother's stories and to focus on the care of her mistress.  Due to the master's continued financial problems, it is decided to send the mistress back to her family in Dorchester County, Maryland.  Eliza is sent as the mistress's personal slave and finds a comfortable place with friendly, helpful slaves.

Her daily life now includes religious activities, crop activities, and a close relationship between her mistress and her sister.  When there is trouble about Meeting Day, Eliza is given the opportunity to meet the mysterious Harriet known as Moses to the slaves.  Eliza risks teaching other slaves to read and realizes her desire for personal freedom.  A wonderful Christmas celebration gives Eliza a respite from her problems.  When her mistress becomes sicker, the master decides on a visit and Eliza decides to escape to freedom.  Read the book to find out if Eliza is successful with her escape to freedom.

Recommended by Christy Pierce, Librarian, Maryland USA

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