Elijah of Buxton

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Elijah of Buxton Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Funny, powerful, masterful tale of escaped slaves.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 24 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shows life in a free settlement of escaped and freed slaves in Canada and the degradation, fear, and suffering caused by slavery in the United States. There's an author's note on Buxton, a real place, which is now a historic site.

Positive Messages

Faith can give you the strength to go on even in the worst situations. Sometimes it's worth risking your life to do what's right.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elijah is brave and compassionate.


Two men are beaten to death, one with a whip. Slaves are shackled, branded, and starved; a man is shot and badly injured; another is lynched; adults slap and punch children; a dog attacks and wounds a boy; it's implied that a slave will commit murder and suicide; a finger is cut off in a knife fight.


Two boys think their teacher is going to have a "family breeding contest." A supposedly hypnotized boy takes off his clothes in front of an audience.


A boy almost says the "N' word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A boy smokes a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Christopher Paul CurtisElijah of Buxton is set in 1859. It's the story of 11-year-old Elijah, born free in a settlement of runaway slaves in Canada, across the border from Detroit, and his journey back to the United States, where slavery still exists. While it isn't as graphic as some books about slavery, it has its share of horrors, including beating deaths (only the aftermath described), lynching, and scars from beatings and brandings. Adults and children are shackled, starved, and deprived of water. This is a thoughtful, touching, and important examination of slavery and its effects. There's an audio book version narrated by Mirron Willis.

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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
Kid, 10 years old November 18, 2019


It’s a great book.
Teen, 13 years old Written byDetroitLions21 January 24, 2018

Elijah of Buxton A+

Elijah overcomes his faults of being fra-gile and learns about the horrors of slavery and learns important life lessons.

What's the story?

In ELIJAH OF BUXTON, Elijah is the first child born in freedom in the Buxton settlement for escaped and freed slaves in Canada. Though he has certainly heard his elders talk, he has never experienced slavery directly. Instead, he has a good life, is getting a solid education, goes fishing, and lives with his loving family in their own home. His closest experience of slavery has been the occasional rumors of slave catchers in the area, and when newly escaped slaves arrive at the settlement. That is, until the money that Mr. Leroy was saving to buy the rest of his family out of slavery is stolen. Then Elijah, feeling partly responsible, agrees to cross over to America to try to get it back.

Is it any good?

This is a first-person narrative, in vivid dialect, by a winningly naive child loaded with personality. In Christopher Paul Curtis' award-winning debut, The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, he firmly established the style that serves him so brilliantly in Elijah of Buxton. Both books have a delightfully funny first half (some of the humor a bit off-color perhaps, but very true to the narrator's age and personality) and a powerfully moving historical event in the second half -- in this case, slavery -- made more powerful by the familiarity the reader has with the characters it will impact.

This wonderful, moving novel is great for discussion groups in schools and libraries. Curtis' signal contribution to children's literature is his creation of novels that address important historical issues and events in an emotionally powerful, intellectually challenging, compassionate way, yet are simply rollicking good fun as well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it must have been like for a black boy to go from a place of freedom in Canada across the border into America, where there was still slavery. How does historical fiction like Elijah of Buxton make history come alive? 

  • Pa says of escaped slaves, "Don't no one get out of America without paying some terrible cost, without having something bad done permanent to 'em, without having something cut off of 'em or burnt into 'em or et up inside of 'em." What does he mean? Do you think that was true?

  • What was life like for the formerly enslaved people after slavery?

Book details

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