Books by Muriel Branch

Released: Oct. 1, 2000

Told in a series of letters between young freed slave Liza Bowser and Miss Bet (Elizabeth L. Van Lew), who freed young Liza and sent her from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia to be educated, this is fiction based on facts. Set before and during the US Civil War, a picture of those years, personalities, and conditions emerges in scrapbook form, with period illustrations, articles from newspapers, other documents, letters, and diary entries. Miss Bet, a wealthy Virginia abolitionist cared deeply for Liza and could not abide slavery. When War commenced, Liza, now back in Richmond and considerably grown, joined with Miss Bet and they became spies, providing the Union with news of the capital city of Confederacy, and other information. The latter is from the home of Jefferson Davis, where Liza served as a house slave taking care of the Davis children. Rather than being identified by their real names, the two are known as Ellen Bee. Always informational in a non-didactic way, with strong characterization and sometimes fraught with suspense, this tale delivers a view of that time in a different way. At times, diction slips into a very modern style ("yakked," "pitch a fit") and an oddly long and detailed letter from Miss Bet to Liza, in Confederate Richmond, is so full of important information that if found by enemies, it could destroy the entire Union spy ring and send the spies to their deaths. It is an expository device, but makes Miss Bet appear unintelligent. The "scrapbook," with incidents from the lives of two real people, should hold readers and be of special use when the Civil War is studied. A map of Richmond would have been a nice addition. (Historical fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >