February 14, 2018

Elijah of Buxton

Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Press
288 pp.
Ages 9-12

Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is the first free child born in Buxton, Ontario, a town of slaves who have escaped from the United States.  His days are filled with fishing by throwing stones, going to school, staying away from snakes (of which he is deathly afraid) and continuing to run into the Preacher, a sweet-talking but manipulative man, who gets Elijah involved in more than one of his schemes. But when the Preacher steals all the hard-earned money that Mr. Leroy was saving to buy his wife and two children out of slavery, Elijah, a boy of innocence and a strong sense of fairness, finds himself heading across the border and into the world of slavers and those seeking freedom in Canada. His ma might call him "fra-gile" but Elijah proves that he is anything but.

Though Elijah of Buxton is a book of a harrowing journey into America by a black youth looking to right a wrong, it only becomes a perilous adventure in the last third of the book.  Christopher Paul Curtis takes time to set the stage for that venture, establishing his characters and cultural landscape through the complexity of voice and atmosphere.  Elijah's interactions with others in his community, both peers and those "growned-up," speak to the changing times, when racism could be overt or concealed and the divide between the United States and Canada was both conspicuous and subtle.

Elijah of Buxton begs to be read aloud to get the full nuance of language and tone that Christopher Paul Curtis instills in the narration and dialogue, just as he has in The Madman of Piney Woods and The Journey of Little Charlie.  The dialect can seem confusing at times but read aloud the text becomes rich and flavourful.

There are many difficult moments in Elijah of Buxton, times when my heart broke and I struggled to read on.  Not because the book wasn't an outstanding piece of literature but because of the injustices and horrors endured.   Mind you, even Christopher Paul Curtis's ending left me sobbing and still hopeful for a baby, for Elijah and for all. Christopher Paul Curtis had just set up the “most beautifullest, most perfectest” story he could.


Though I rarely review books not published in the past year, my recent review of The Journey of Little Charlie compelled me to review Christopher Paul Curtis's earlier books that reference the town of Buxton, The Madman of Piney Woods and now Elijah of Buxton.  These books are not a series, though Buxton is mentioned in each.  Please read them all.

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