Reviews for Elijah of Buxton
Booklist Reviews 2007 September #1
*Starred Review* After his mother rebukes him for screaming that hoop snakes have invaded Buxton, gullible 11-year-old Elijah confesses to readers that "there ain't nothing in the world she wants more than for me to quit being so doggone fra-gile." Inexperienced and prone to mistakes, yet kind, courageous, and understanding, Elijah has the distinction of being the first child born in the Buxton Settlement, which was founded in Ontario in 1849 as a haven for former slaves. Narrator Elijah tells an episodic story that builds a broad picture of Buxton's residents before plunging into the dramatic events that take him out of Buxton and, quite possibly, out of his depth. In the author's note, Curtis relates the difficulty of tackling the subject of slavery realistically through a child's first-person perspective. Here, readers learn about conditions in slavery at a distance, though the horrors become increasingly apparent. Among the more memorable scenes are those in which Elijah meets escaped slaves--first, those who have made it to Canada and, later, those who have been retaken by slave catchers. Central to the story, these scenes show an emotional range and a subtlety unusual in children's fiction. Many readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves at times on the edges of their seats in suspense and, at other moments, moved to tears. A fine, original novel from a gifted storyteller. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #6
The story of the Underground Railroad, which led escaping slaves to Canada, has been richly celebrated in fiction. But what happened after they arrived? In Elijah's story we visit the community of Buxton, a refuge for freed slaves established in 1849 in Canada West, close to the American border. Eleven-year-old Elijah, the first child to be born free in the settlement, is an irresistible character. Ebullient and compassionate, he is a talker who can torture a metaphor until it begs for mercy. Opening chapters lull and delight us with small-town pranks and tall tales. The mood gets chillier when a new family of fugitives arrives. Elijah relates how his Pa explains their fragility: "Don't no one get out of America without paying some terrible cost, without having something bad done permanent to 'em, without having something cut off of 'em or burnt into 'em or et up inside of 'em." When a con man takes off with the funds Elijah's friend Mr. Leroy saved to buy his family out of slavery, Elijah and Mr. Leroy pursue the thief across the border to Michigan; and there, while hiding out in a barn, Elijah discovers a small group of captured slaves, shackled to the wall, barely alive. There is no easy happy ending here, but, in a heart-rending scene, Elijah reacts with courtesy, courage, and respect, according the wretched their dignity and giving them the one gift of freedom in his power. This arresting, surprising novel of reluctant heroism is about nothing less than nobility. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 August #2
Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is known for two things: being the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, and throwing up on the great Frederick Douglass. It's 1859, in Buxton, a settlement for slaves making it to freedom in Canada, a setting so thoroughly evoked, with characters so real, that readers will live the story, not just read it. This is not a zip-ahead-and-see-what-happens-next novel. It's for settling into and savoring the rich, masterful storytelling, for getting to know Elijah, Cooter and the Preacher, for laughing at stories of hoop snakes, toady-frogs and fish-head chunking and crying when Leroy finally gets money to buy back his wife and children, but has the money stolen. Then Elijah journeys to America and risks his life to do what's right. 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." (author's note) (Fiction. 9+) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 September #2
Elijah Freeman, 11, has two claims to fame. He was the first child "born free" to former slaves in Buxton, a (real) haven established in 1849 in Canada by an American abolitionist. The rest of his celebrity, Elijah reports in his folksy vernacular, stems from a "tragical" event. When Frederick Douglass, the "famousest, smartest man who ever escaped from slavery," visited Buxton, he held baby Elijah aloft, declaring him a "shining bacon of light and hope," tossing him up and down until the jostled baby threw up--on Douglass. The arresting historical setting and physical comedy signal classic Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy ), but while Elijah's boyish voice represents the Newbery Medalist at his finest, the story unspools at so leisurely a pace that kids might easily lose interest. Readers meet Buxton's citizens, people who have known great cruelty and yet are uncommonly polite and welcoming to strangers. Humor abounds: Elijah's best friend puzzles over the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" and decides it's about sexual reproduction. There's a rapscallion of a villain in the Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah Connerly the Third, a smart-talking preacher no one trusts, and, after 200 pages, a riveting plot: Zephariah makes off with a fortune meant to buy a family of slaves their freedom. 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. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) [Page 61]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2007 October
Gr 4-8-- Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman has two claims to fame: he was the first free black to have been born in Buxton, an actual settlement in Canada established in 1849 by the abolitionist Reverend William King; and, during his infancy, he threw up all over the visiting Frederick Douglass. Elijah is an engaging protagonist, and whether he is completing his chores or lamenting his Latin studies or experiencing his first traveling carnival, his descriptions are full of charm and wonder. Although his colloquial language may prove challenging for some readers, it brings an authenticity and richness to the story that is well worth the extra effort that it might require. While some of the neighbors believe Elijah to be rather simple, and even his mother tends to overprotect her "fra-gile" boy, his true character shines out when a disaster occurs in the close community. Elijah's neighbor, Mr. Leroy, has been saving money for years to buy freedom for his wife and children who are still in the U.S. When this money is stolen, Elijah blames himself for inadvertently helping the thief and, risking capture by slave catchers, crosses the border into Detroit to get it back. His guileless recounting of the people he meets and the horrors he sees will allow readers to understand the dangers of the Underground Railroad without being overwhelmed by them. Elijah's decisions along the way are not easy ones, but ultimately lead to a satisfying conclusion. Curtis's talent for dealing with painful periods of history with grace and sensitivity is as strong as ever.--Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA [Page 146]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2007 December
Elijah is eleven years old and the first person born into freedom in Buxton, a small Canadian settlement of runaway slaves. Elijah attends school, enjoys time with his loving parents, and loves fishing. His carefree life in 1859 changes when he is seen catching fish by throwing rocks rather than using a fishing pole. A local preacher, who is anything but religious, tries to exploit this talent by using him at a carnival. Elijah begins to mature as he realizes that people are not always who they appear to be. His maturation continues as he welcomes runaway slaves to town and reads a letter to a family friend about the death of her husband who was a slave. He understands through these experiences that, although he is free, slavery greatly affects his life. Elijah later decides to travel across the Canadian border to track down a thief who had stolen money that was to be used to buy a settlement member's family out of slavery. This task becomes more complicated than Elijah expected as he gets a glimpse of what slavery is really like Curtis creates an absolute gem of a novel. It is both humorous and heartbreaking and full of crisp dialogue that propels this character-driven story. Elijah is a funny but flawed character who is wholly original and wonderfully dynamic. Curtis does what is so difficult to do in young adult fiction-convincingly show the maturation process of an adolescent without making him seem like a completely new character or like an adult at the conclusion of the novel. A fascinating portrayal of history, a strong first-person narrative, and a most remarkable main character make this work perhaps the author's finest to date.-Jeff Mann 5Q 4P M J Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.