Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is about a first-generation freeborn black 11-year-old named Elijah Freedman. Elijah is best known around his community for having thrown up on Frederick Douglass as a baby. The book focuses on Elijah's life, attending school, doing chores, fishing, and playing with his friends. Elijah was the first to be "born free" to former slaves in Buxton, Canada, and although he's heard stories about slavery from the freed slaves that surround him in his settlement, he has not come face to face with it.

Elijah's innocence to slavery changes as he, who is once described by his parents as being a "fra-gile" boy, embarks on the dangerous journey to America. Elijah, accompanied by Mr. Leroy, emarks on this quest in order to track down former slave, Reverend Zephariah, who stole Mr. Leroy's money that was intended to buy his family back from captivity in the south. Elijah's fragile persona is put to the test once reaching the destination and after Mr. Leroy unexpectedly passes. Elijah, though unable to recover the money and find the evil Reverend, successfully rescues an enslaved baby girl named Hope and the two journey safely back to Buxton.

Once described as a "fragile" boy, Elijah demonstrates the ability to face the harsh reality of slavery and finds the strength and courage that portrays him as the "grown up" that he longed to be perceived as by his family and friends. And he gave the greatest gift of all to Hope-a life of freedom, growing up in the settlement of Buxton, Canada, land of the free.

Curtis was able to depict a historical fiction story that contained the cultural and historical authenticity, while painting a clear picture of what life was like for runaway slaves and those who settled in Buxton. The character that he creates through Elijah is believable to readers, and does not make him "superheroic," while his rescuing of Hope proves to be a brave and admirable characteristic of a hero, it is believable of his age.

In the author's note, Curtis states that while some of the story is fictionalized, most of the story is based on fact. Frederick Douglass and John Brown did visit Buxton, and Reverend William King did found the Elgin Settlement for freed slaves. He encourges readers to go visit Buxton, while "it is almost impossible not to be deeply moved while looking out on fields that were cleared by people who risked their lives for the dream of freedom."

As this was my first book that I've read by Christopher Paul Curtis, I gained a deeper understanding of what life was like for those who were successful in escaping slavery after reaching Canada. It is unreal what young children, such as Elijah, had to endure throughout their lives. I respect, value, and admire their brave spirits as they experienced a life filled of uncertainty and danger.

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