A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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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?
- Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
- Publication date: August 1, 2007
- Number of pages: 341
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors, Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: November 24, 2020
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