Friday, May 6, 2011

Elijah of Buxton

Written by: Christopher Paul Curtis

Audiobook Read by: Mirron Willis

Elijah of Buxton is the story of a young boy growing up in one of the first black settlements in Canada.  Elijah, the first child to be born free in the town, goes through the hoops and hurdles of life and comes to know that he is a little less fra-gile than most believe.

Christopher Paul Curtis made this work of historical fiction come to life by setting the story in a place that did exist.  The story took place in the Elgin Settlement, which was known as Buxton, Canada.  Buxton was one of the first four black settlements developed in Canada during the mid-eighteen hundreds.  Reverend William King—a white man who felt that blacks could be successful if given the same opportunities as white children—developed Buxton.  It was a place where African Americans were treated fairly and could thrive. 

Curtis infused small details of the real Buxton that made readers feel like they were a part of the original settlement.  For example, in the story, community members would ring a Liberty Bell each time a newly freed person arrived in order to welcome him or her into the community.  Curtis mentions in his Author’s Note that this was indeed true.  The bell was purchased in 1850 using the pennies, nickels, and dollars saved by former slaves and was a tribute to the people of Buxton.  Curtis also emphasized how important school was throughout his novel and always had Elijah studying Latin.  Reverend William King did indeed strongly value school and did teach such subjects such as Greek and Latin to students.  In fact, many white families in the area decided to send their children to the Academy of Buxton due to its excellent reputation.

Elijah, the protagonist, is an eleven-year-old boy who is putting forth his best efforts to, “quit being so fra-gile.”  Curtis strongly develops the character of Elijah and readers cannot help but feel emotionally vested in the story.  Elijah narrates and constantly tries to make sense of the world and of his elders who he is supposed to trust and respect.  For example, one day, Elijah goes fishing and catches ten fish that he plans to share with a few people in the neighborhood as well as his family.  Before he gets a chance to head home after an evening of fishing, the Preacher, a shady character to say the least, tricks Elijah into giving him some of the fish because of tithing.  Although tithing is ten percent, and ten percent of ten is one, the Preacher somehow ends up with four fish.  Elijah thinks, “I didn’t mean to show no disrespect but I couldn’t help frowning.  I started with ten fish and now I was down to six, and even though I ain’t particular worthy at my schooling, it still seemed it’d take a whole lot of doggone humbug algebra and some trickaration geometry to make ten percent of ten come out to four….Then he was gone.  And so were four of my fish, and hard as I try, I caint see that as one tenth of ten!”

Elijah gives others the benefit of the doubt and is very respectful.  He is hard working, and in spite of his mother’s belief that he is fra-gile, he proves that he is quite courageous and selfless.  Throughout the story, readers laugh with Elijah as he makes gullible mistakes and cry with him, as he becomes a young, brave man. 

Christopher Paul Curtis won both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Newbery for Elijah of Buxton.  In addition, there is an audiobook version of this story available, which was awarded the 2009 Odyssey Honor Award.  The story, read by Mirron Willis, adds authenticity and life to the characters.  Curtis writes using dialect, which begs to be read aloud.  Although this story stands on it’s own, readers should listen to the story in order to have full appreciation.

Christopher Paul Curtis dedicates his historical fiction novel to the original twenty-one former-slave settlers of the Elgin Settlement and Buxton Mission of Raleigh.  He also dedicated this story to Reverend William King and his love of justice.  In his author’s note, he writes, “Buxton is an inspiration, and its importance in both American and Canadian history deserves to be much more recognized.  I feel so honored to have been able to set my novel in such a beautiful place.”  Curtis gives readers a glimpse into the hardships of slavery.  He gives readers perspective on what it may have been like to become free, to lose your loved ones, and to be recaptured.  Through his eye-opening and captivating novel, Curtis was successful in helping people to recognize the significance and importance of Buxton.

Note: You can visit the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum in order to learn more about the history of Buxton.  There is also a lot of information on their website about the history if you are interested in learning more.

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