Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. New York: Scholastic Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780439023443
Elijah was the first child born free in the settlement of Buxton, Canada. For the first two thirds of the book we learn of Elijah’s everyday life, his frag-ileness (he’s afraid of snakes and cries easily), his quest to learn “the secret language of being growned”, the personalities of the people of Buxton, and how they work together in their community. Elijah struggles with the actions of a man who calls himself “the Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah Connerly the Third”, especially when the Preacher tricks him out of some of the fish he caught and later tries to sell his talent for accurately hitting things (killing fish, putting out candle flames) with rocks to a mesmerist. After the Preacher steals money from someone in the settlement who saved for years to buy their family’s freedom, Elijah sets off after him. While in America, Elijah encounters several “growned up” situations including a group of run-away slaves who had been captured. He must find the courage and strength to return to Buxton and does so in a way that he’ll be remembered for more than the baby who vomited on Frederick Douglas.
Curtis does an excellent job of tackling a difficult subject from the view point of an eleven year old. Elijah is believable and even though he lived at a very different time, modern students will relate to his interactions with friends, time at school, confusion, and pranks. They’ll love the pranks! Humor abounds in this book, but it doesn’t make the reality of the evil dealt with too soft.
Although necessary to develop characters, explain setting, and give the foundation for the theme, the first third of this book was tedious to me. Since Elijah of Buxton is written from Elijah’s point of view, most of the book whether conversation or narrative is authentic to his dialect. This however, made the story not flow well until the climax and falling action when it was too exciting to be bothered by the challenge.
The author’s note included at the end of the book offers validity and more information for readers. Ultimately, the timeless themes of hope, courage and freedom in Elijah are so powerful that you will walk away saying, “That was a moving and wonderful book.”
BOOKLIST: “Many readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves at times on the edges of their seats in suspense and, at other moments, moved to tears.
HORN BOOK: “This arresting, surprising novel of reluctant heroism is about nothing less than nobility.”
The 2008 Coretta Scott King Award
The 2008 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
*Other books by Curtis
Bud Not Buddy ISBN 0385323069
The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963 ISBN: 0440414121
*Author’s Web site http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis/
*Buxton National Historic Site & Museum, http://www.buxtonmuseum.com/
*Great novel study while studying The Underground Railroad, slavery, or any key figures such as Frederick Douglas.
*Discuss themes from the book. Use them to express thoughts and feelings on the topic in writing.
*Have students write a narrative about what their escape from slavery might be like. Include the part from Elijah were the “Liberty Bell” is rung and how they feel when they hear it.