ELIJAH OF BUXTON by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by Mirron Willis

Summary

This heartbreaking story follows anecdotes from the life of Elijah, a boy born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement mostly comprised of people who escaped or were freed from slavery. Through Elijah’s eyes, the reader meets the many people of Buxton, including a minister with questionable morals, the prideful, overemotional girl from Elijah’s class who is tasked with welcoming nervous new citizens, and a man who is working with Elijah and saving up to buy his family out of slavery. The histories of the characters are gradually revealed.

Elijah doesn’t understand all of what he hears, but his sweet nature makes him feel incredible empathy for people. The story culminates in one of the sweetest and saddest scenes ever written, when Elijah takes responsibility for an infant born into slavery and brings her home with him and into a life of freedom in Buxton.

Analysis

Elijah is an extremely relatable character. He has a childlike perspective on the world, often missing the big picture and caught up in his own thoughts. He is growing up in a time and culture vastly different from mine, but many of his thoughts and attitudes are common among children. His desperate desire to help and frustration that he is hindered by his age and strength are feelings that are shared by most children faced with injustice.

The historical context of this book is realistic and not sugar-coated, not even for a juvenile audience. Elijah’s voice is a child’s, so his description of the events of his life are related in a way that children will understand. His theoretical understanding of slavery is just as authentic as the moment when that understanding is forever changed by meeting a woman and men in chains.

The setting in Buxton is integral and historically-based. As one of the major settlements for those who escaped slavery, Buxton has developed some unique traditions, and its citizens have a strong sense of identity and pride. The town is vividly described and just as memorable as Elijah himself.

The theme and style completely reflect the time period. The speech patterns help to immerse the reader in that time and place, but Elijah’s speech also serves as a symbol. He is an educated black boy, a symbol of freedom and the success of the Buxton settlement.

Listening to the audiobook version of this story was difficult at first. The accent was distracting, but after a while, it was easy to hear it as Elijah’s voice. A storyteller excels when the listener can forget she or he is speaking, and by the time the story picks up pace, that it certainly the case for Mirron Willis’s narration.

Awards

Coretta Scott King Award

Newbery Honor Book

Reviews

“This is Curtis’s best novel yet, and no doubt many readers, young and old, will finish and say, ‘This is one of the best books I have ever read.'” – Kirkus

“Curtis brings the story full-circle, demonstrating how Elijah the ‘fra-gile’ child has become sturdy, capable of stealing across the border in pursuit of the crooked preacher, and strong enough to withstand a confrontation with the horrors of slavery. The powerful ending is violent and unsettling, yet also manages to be uplifting.” – Publishers Weekly

Related Books

COPPER SUN by Sharon Draper

FORGE by Laurie Halse Anderson

HENRY’S FREEDOM BOX by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson

Activities

Write about a place that is as important to you as Buxton is to Elijah. What makes it special to you? If you don’t have a place like that, write about how you could make one. What would it look like? What kind of people would live there?

References

Curtis, Christopher Paul, and Mirron E. Willis. 2008. ELIJAH OF BUXTON. New York: Random House/Listening Library. ISBN 978-0439023450

Kirkus. Accessed October 31, 2015. “Elijah of Buxton.” https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/christopher-paul-curtis/elijah-of-buxton/

“Fugitive Slaves in Canada, 1860.” Library and Archives Canada. Accessed October 31, 2015. “The Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada.” http://www.lac-bac.gc.ca/anti-slavery/033004-2000-e.html

Publishers Weekly. Accessed October 31, 2015. “Elijah of Buxton.” http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-02344-3

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