A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
For those who have been enslaved, freedom is worth any sacrifice.
Positive Role Models
Elijah is brave, sensitive, compassionate. He doesn't always show perfect judgment, but he always tries to do the right thing.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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."
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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."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Carnival workers smoke cigars. A man guarding several captives is drunk and has passed out.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Christopher Paul Curtis' Elijah 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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.