Wow! What can I say about Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis without trivializing it? This years Newbery Honor book was amazing! I haven’t read Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! but it must have been “amazing-er” as Elijah of Buxton was spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and if you haven’t, well, you should.
Eleven year old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves barely over the border from the United States. Elijah, who has only known the comforts of life that freedom gives him spends most of his day fishing, playing, going to school, riding a mule, and doing chores which he actually doesn’t mind. His Mother calls him a “fra-gile” boy who gets all “afeard and shake-ity.” He wishes people would stop calling him a baby and treat him like an adult, although he freely admits that doesn’t understand the secret code in which adults talk (in which they talk around the situation, instead of about it).
In the first half of the book, we get to know Elijah’s family and the other characters of the book. Curtis also paints the reader a clear picture of what life is like for runaway slaves and how the community embraces newcomers to help them adjust. We see the anguish and hardships and hear some of the stories from former slaves. We also see the hope that many have as they work hard to save enough money to buy their families freedom.
It is this kind of work and saved money that instigates the books climax as a man in the community steals another man’s money and Elijah feels as though it’s his fault. He sets out and crosses over to America to confront and capture this man. While doing so, he discovers first hand the horrors of slavery, comes to truly understands his privileged life, and proves that maybe he’s not so “fra-gile” after all.
This book was a delight to read. Written in dialect it was fun to really go back in time and hear the voices. Perhaps this passage is not the funnest example of the dialect in the book, but I liked what it said:
I could understand part of the reason. Pa’s always telling me how being in America is unbelievable hard for slaves. He says it seems don’t no one get out of America without paying some terrible cost, withoug having something done permanent to ‘em, without having something cut off of ‘em or burnt into ‘em r et up inside of ‘em.
Maybe that’s why when growned folks see comeone who’s long-lost, they don’t get riled ’bout it much as a young person would. Maybe it ain’t nothing but being afeared they’re gonna have to hear about all the bad things the person they loved had went through whilst knowing there waren’t nothing they could do ’bout it. Maybe all the sad things ‘neath the scars and burns and the pieces that were missing off of their kin were stories best not looked at too hard.
This thinking like a growned person was starting to be sensical.
Visit Christopher Paul Curtis’ website here.