Thursday, January 17, 2008

Elijah of Buxton
by Christopher Paul Curtis
2008 Newbery Honor Award Winner
2008 Coretta Scott King Winner
2008 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Take a look at that list of awards under the title of this book. Yep, that's three awards all given out in one week. How they'll all fit on the cover will remain to be seen. But take those awards as a sign that this is one good book.

When Christopher Paul Curtis was interviewed about 'Elijah of Buxton', he said that he wanted to write about slavery but found it too personal and difficult to write about. So he created the character of Elijah to tell the story. And what a character Elijah is.

Elijah is the first free child born in the town of Buxton in Canada. His claim to fame, at least as the townspeople see it, is the fact that he threw up on Frederick Douglas when he was a baby. Since that time, Elijah has gone about his life chunking fish, cleaning stables and trying to play down his fame. The town of Buxton is a cherished destination for runaway slaves and Elijah helps welcome many to the town. When newly arrived runaways enter the freedom of Buxton, the town rings its liberty bell in welcome.

The citizens of Buxton are all escaped slaves who carry the scars of their slavery, both on their bodies and in their memories. Mr. Leroy, one of Elijah's grown friends, cuts trees in order to make money to buy his family out of captivity. Just when he has enough money, the town preacher steals it and runs away. Mr. Leroy and Elijah take off after the preacher. As they travel across the border, Elijah sees for himself the horrors of slavery that he's heard about all of this life. When faced with an important choice, it takes all the growing up Elijah can muster to stand up to evil and make a difference.
'Elijah of Buxton' is a tremendous work of historical fiction, but it's also a really funny book to read. There are lots of scenes where Elijah gets himself into a bit of trouble then gets out of that trouble with hilarious results. For example, when Elijah goes fishing with his special chunking technique, he manages to catch ten fish Along comes the preacher who convinces Elijah to give ten percent of his catch to the minister. That means Elijah should be going home with nine fish. But as Elijah heads home with only seven fish, he knows he's been swindled but can't quite figure out how. Christopher Paul Curtis uses this kind of humor throughout the book to temper the misery of slavery that Elijah encounters through the stories of the town residents and when he finally crosses the border into America.

Pick up 'Elijah of Buxton' and prepare to laugh, cry, get angry and cheer as you turn the pages. You'll agree that this book is a winner.

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