Floating up like a bubble through layers of history, buoyed with hope and comic energy…Elijah of Buxton tells the story of Elijah Freeman, the first freeborn child in the historic Elgin Settlement, a village of escaped slaves in Canada…As in his previous novels, Curtis is a master at balancing the serious and the lighthearted: as Langston Hughes said of the blues, "not softened with tears, but hardened with laughter." He has already received a Newbery medal and an honor for two novels rooted in the experience of black Americans: "The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 and Bud, Not Buddy. His latest book is another natural award candidate and makes an excellent case, in a story positively brimming with both truth and sense, for the ability of historical fiction to bring history to life.
The New York Times
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.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Occasionally a book comes along that has us laughing one second and swallowing the lump in our throats the next; that brands haunting images into our brains, through the fresh voice of an irrepressible character. That would be 11-year-old Elijah, the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, across the border from Detroit. Mischievous Elijah, famous for once throwing up on Frederick Douglass, is the heart of Buxton. Now he yearns to be "growned up," which thanks to a skillful author happens both gradually and suddenly, when Elijah embarks on a dangerous odyssey into America. This is Curtis's most fully realized novel, about family, human connections, and the passion for freedom. Though written in modified dialect, the language flows and rolls off the page like poetry. Incidentally, Buxton truly was a safe-haven colony, yet Americans know little about where runaways settled when they reached Canada. Recommended for ages 9 and up, this is a humdinger of a tale that twists and turns and breaks our hearts, before catapulting us to the sad, yet triumphant ending. Reviewer: Lois Ruby
Children's Literature - Kathryn Erskine
Christopher Paul Curtis knows how to write characters so engaging and believable you want to meet them in person. In fact, after reading his books, you feel like you have. From the author of award winners, The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963 and Bud, not Buddy, comes another novel with heart and meaning wrapped in rollicking humor. Readers will slip into the story as they, along with eleven-year-old Elijah, assume a life of freedom, but this is the 1850's and slavery still exists in America, alarmingly close to the freed slave community of Buxton, Canada. Helping people escape from slavery is a deadly business, hardly a task for the fragile Elijah. His claim to fame is being the nervous baby who threw up on Frederick Douglas. He is scared to death of snakes and is taken in by a colorful con-artist called the Preacher, but the kid has heart, a sense of responsibility, and a feeling of what is right and wrong. He witnesses death and learns grisly truths, including the idea that giving up a child for the sake of freedom may well be the greatest gift. Elijah's heroism is believable, growing from almost accidental, to faltering, to determined, albeit limited, saving one tiny soul rather than a whole group, which is all that can be expected of a child. Indeed, giving a child the opportunity to learn the horrors of the past but understand the hope of the future is the most we can ask of a characterand of an author.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8- Set in 1860, 11-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway and freed slaves, in Christopher Paul Curtis's Newbery Honor book (Scholastic, 2007). When money that Elijah's friend has been saving to send to America to buy his family's freedom is stolen, Elijah crosses the border into Detroit on a dangerous mission to help recover it. Narrated by Elijah, the horrors of slavery are revealed. This engrossing tale is read by Mirron Willis who effortlessly varies his rich, textured voice to make each character unique. This story will captivate listeners.-Karen T. Bilton, Mary Jacobs Memorial Library, Rocky Hill, NJ
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+)