Elijah of Buxton

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Elijah of Buxton Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Funny, powerful tale of free Black community in 1859 Canada.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 25 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Portrays life in a free Canadian settlement of escaped and freed enslaved people just before the beginning of the American Civil War. The author shows the degradation, fear, and suffering caused by slavery in the U.S., and ways of life, gender roles, and superstitions that existed in North America at that time. Afterword by the author explains that Buxton was a real place (now a historic site) and tells which details in the novel are true rather than fictional. 

Positive Messages

For those who have been enslaved, freedom is worth any sacrifice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elijah is brave, sensitive, compassionate. He doesn't always show perfect judgment, but he always tries to do the right thing.


Two men are beaten to death, one with a whip. Enslaved people are shackled, branded, starved. A man is shot and badly injured, another is lynched. Adults slap and punch a child. A dog attacks and wounds a boy. It's implied that an enslaved woman will commit murder and kill herself.


A boy misunderstands the phrase "Familiarity breeds contempt" and then convinces his friend that their teacher is going to have a "family breeding contest." While chastising Elijah for almost using the "N" word," Mr. Leroy refers to a White man calling his wife that word when he would, "take her to another man for his own."


Elijah says half of the "N" word when Mr. Leroy slaps him and reprimands him severely, showing him a brand on his chest and asking, among other things, "What you think they call me whilst they was doing this?” and “What name you think they call my wife when they take her to another man for his own?" Buxton is twice referred to as the "Negro Settlement."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Carnival workers smoke cigars. A man guarding several captives is drunk and has passed out.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Christopher Paul CurtisElijah of Buxton is a Newbery Honor Book that also won the Coretta Scott King Award. Set in 1859, before the U.S. Civil War, it's the story of an 11-year-old boy who lives in a Canadian settlement of formerly enslaved people. Though residents of Buxton are free, they must remain vigilant about the threat of "slave catchers," and many Buxton residents who escaped slavery are trying to save enough money to pay for the release of loved ones still trapped in the American South. Narrated by Elijah, the book shows Buxton life through a child's eyes. There's some silly kid logic and antics, in addition to a boy's-eye view of the atrocities perpetrated on Black people in the mid-19th century. The violence is not especially graphic or bloody, but Elijah sees people who have suffered gunshot wounds, torture, and branding. He also fights off an attack dog and is treated roughly by some adults. Curtis also offers some hopeful inspiration and great information about the true events behind the novel.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byLisa B. March 31, 2018

Great Piece of Historical Fiction and Suspenseful Story

First recommendation... use the listening version. It allows you to understand the dialect, and it builds up suspense and understanding by allowing the book to... Continue reading
Adult Written byMediaXpert April 14, 2014

Devoid of faults!

THE BOOK: Is about 11 year old Elijah, who lives with a non-slave family durinh the times of slavery at a settlement in Canada. His good life is interupted when... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byShowman movie13 August 14, 2020

This book was disappointing but ended well

This book was a bit disappointing for me. The main plot did not happen to almost the end of the book. I hated the "preacher" in the book; he was a ch... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byBookNerd09 February 24, 2021

Amazing Book!

I had to read this for a book report a few years back, and I loved it! It started out a bit slow, and there wasn't really a main plot until the last half o... Continue reading

What's the story?

In ELIJAH OF BUXTON, Elijah is the first child born in freedom in the Buxton, Ontario, settlement for formerly enslaved Black people. Elijah has a pleasant life. He attends a good school, does his chores and goes fishing after, and lives with his loving parents in their own home. However, he has heard lots of stories about the brutality and hardships others have endured while enslaved and on the run. Some of his neighbors devote all of their efforts to earning and saving money to try to purchase the freedom of loved ones still trapped in slavery, and occasionally, news arrives for a Buxton resident about one of those loved ones. Elijah is sometimes called upon to read a neighbor's letter, because not everyone in the settlement can read, but he dreads doing this, because the news is usually sad. When Elijah lets a woman know that a family member has passed away, the woman gives all the money she has saved to a Buxton man, Mr. Leroy, who still has a chance to free his family. Elijah and his father try to help Mr. Leroy figure out whom he can trust to deliver the money to someone who can facilitate the transaction. When things don't go according to plan, Elijah desperately wants to make things right.

Is it any good?

This exciting and moving historical novel is told in the voice of a winningly naive child brimming with compassion and curiosity. In his award-winning debut The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, author Christopher Paul Curtis established the style that also serves well in Elijah of Buxton: Both books start out with a charming and amusing tone (some of the humor a bit off-color, perhaps, but true to the narrator's age and personality) before giving way to a worrisome situation. The affection and familiarity the reader feels for the characters by the time things get heavy add to the impact of the events. As with The Watsons, Elijah's story is informed by history -- in this case, the horrific history of slavery and the inspiring free Black settlement that Buxton is patterned on.

Elijah of Buxton makes a wonderful teaching tool that can be great for classroom and home discussions, and can help children imagine life in 1859 by seeing the world of the novel through a child's eyes. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the settlement described in Elijah of Buxton. Had you heard about any place like Buxton before you read this book? What did you learn about slavery in the United States that you didn't know before? 

  • Pa talks about Elijah being "fragile," and Elijah worries about this. Do you think Elijah is fragile? How would you describe his character?

  • How does the Liberty Bell in this novel compare with the United States' famed Liberty Bell in Philadelphia? What does each bell signify, and how are they different? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and stories of racism and social justice

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate