The Madman of Piney Woods

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Bestselling Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis delivers a powerful companion to his multiple award-winning ELIJAH OF BUXTON.

Benji and Red couldn't be more different. They aren't friends. They don't even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking ...

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Bestselling Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis delivers a powerful companion to his multiple award-winning ELIJAH OF BUXTON.

Benji and Red couldn't be more different. They aren't friends. They don't even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real?

In a tale brimming with intrigue and adventure, Christopher Paul Curtis returns to the vibrant world he brought to life in Elijah of Buxton. Here is another novel that will break your heart -- and expand it, too.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jervey Tervalon
Rarely have I read a children's book so suspenseful that it's made me worry about being stranded in the weeds with the bleak, hateful aspects of human nature. But Christopher Paul Curtis's The Madman of Piney Woods did just that. Again and again, I doubted that what would happen next would be O.K. for young and old readers alike. Yet at every turn of this middle-grade novel…Curtis deftly makes what might have been simply heart-rending hopeful and redeeming instead.
Publishers Weekly
In 1901, Benji Alston lives in Buxton, Ont., a real-life town settled by abolitionists and runaway slaves (and the setting of Curtis’s Newbery Honor–winning Elijah of Buxton). Alvin “Red” Stockard, son of an Irish immigrant and a local judge, resides in nearby Chatham. The woods of the title connect the two towns, and both boys have grown up hearing cautionary tall tales about a wild boogeyman who lives there. Writing in his customary episodic style, Curtis relates their separate stories in alternating chapters, incorporating a large cast, his trademark humor and gritty hijinks, and the historical events that shaped the people and the area: slavery, the U.S. Civil War, and Irish immigration. It takes more than half the book for the boys—both 13—and their stories to connect, which may try the patience of some readers. Those who persist, though, will be rewarded with an update on what became of Elijah, the hero of the first book, as Curtis delivers an ending that ties together the two stories, set 40 years apart, in a poignant and powerful way. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

A Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award
Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Finalist, Governor General's Literary Award
An American Library Association Notable Book
A Canadian Library Association Book of the Year


* "Rich, masterful storytelling. . . . 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.'" --KIRKUS, starred review

* "A fine, original novel from a gifted storyteller. . . . Readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves, at times, on the edge of their seats in suspense and, at others, moved to tears." --BOOKLIST, starred review

* "Curtis's talent for dealing with painful periods of history with grace and sensitivity is as strong as ever." --SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, starred review

* "Elijah . . . is an irresistible character. . . . This arresting, surprising novel of reluctant heroism is about nothing less than nobility." --HORN BOOK, starred review

*"It is, in short, quintessential Curtis, sure to please his legions of fans and to cultivate new ones." Booklist, starred review

*"Humor and tragedy are often intertwined, and readers will find themselves sobbing and chuckling, sometimes in the same scene. Though this story stands alone, it will be even more satisfying for those who have read Elijah of Buxton."- Kirkus, starred review

*"Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words"- THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE, starred review

VOYA, December 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 5) - Jewel Davis
It is 1901 in the former runaway slave settlement of Buxton, Canada, and Benji Alston dreams of writing for a newspaper. Gaining an apprenticeship, he sets out to become Buxton’s finest journalist. Across the woods in Chatham, Canada, lives Red Stockard, grandson of Mother O’Toole, an imposing Irish immigrant. Red longs to be a scientist and approaches life through the scientific method, although he cannot quite deduce why his grandmother is so malicious. The two boys happen to meet while Benji is on assignment in Chatham, and they learn that they share the same fear of the legendary madman in the woods that separate their towns. An angry man’s drunken reaction to the madman sets into motion events that lead the two new friends to discover that what makes a monster is not imagined horrors but the very real events from the past. In this moving coming-of-age tale, award-winning author Curtis uses the shared human experiences of fear, despair, and loss to connect two boys from different cultural backgrounds. Using alternating chapters, Curtis explores the historical parallels between the horrors of the transatlantic Irish migration and the painful remnants of slavery. Through these parallels, Curtis shows the dichotomous nature of fear—how it can turn people into what they fear the most or make them humble and forgiving. Set forty years after Elijah Of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007/Voya December 2007), this companion novel works well as a stand-alone and would be welcomed in many school or public library collections. Reviewer: Jewel Davis; Ages 11 to 15.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-06-10
Forty years after Elijah Freeman’s exploits in Elijah of Buxton (2007), 13-year-olds Benji Alston and Red Stockard become friends as Curtis revisits Buxton, Ontario, in a fine companion novel.Benji and Red don’t meet for 200 pages, their separate lives in 1901 related in alternating first-person narratives. Benji, an African-Canadian boy in Buxton, and Red, a white boy of Irish descent living in nearby Chatham, have fairly ordinary and free lives. Benji dreams of becoming the best newspaperman in North America; Red mostly wants to survive his crazy Grandmother O’Toole. Echoes of history underlie the tale: Benji lives in a community settled by former slaves; Red is the grandson of a woman haunted by the Irish Potato Famine and the horrors of coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River. Both boys know the legend of a mysterious creature in the woods, called the Madman of Piney Woods by Benji, the South Woods Lion Man by Red. And, indeed, this “madman” and his woods ultimately tie the whole story together in a poignant and life-affirming manner. Humor and tragedy are often intertwined, and readers will find themselves sobbing and chuckling, sometimes in the same scene. Though this story stands alone, it will be even more satisfying for those who have read Elijah of Buxton.Beautiful storytelling as only Curtis can do it. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-13)
Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Benji Alston and Red Stockard are neighbors, in a sense. Benji lives in Buxton, Ontario, the town founded by freed slaves in the mid-nineteenth century; and Red lives in Chatham, a neighboring town. They are not friends; in fact, they do not meet each other until halfway through the book. They do have some things in common, however. For one thing, both of them have encountered a mysterious (and possibly mythical) wild man in the woods between the two towns. The year is 1901 and the boys are thirteen-years-old. Benji’s experiences are normal for a young boy growing up at that time but Red’s are a little less normal. His mother died when he was a very young child and his father and grandmother raised him. He is terrified of his grandmother, whose unhappy experiences as a young Irish immigrant to Canada have made her bitter and resentful of nearly everyone. In alternating chapters, told in the voices of the two boys, Curtis has woven a story of friendship and adventure and has included a good bit of history. The boys learn what trauma sometimes does to people, how some cannot live around other people because of haunting memories, and how some become hateful and mean because of what they’ve endured. The end of the story provides readers who are familiar with its companion story, Elijah of Buxton, a reintroduction to Elijah. This great book is enthusiastically recommended. Reviewer: Ellen Welty; Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton(Scholastic, 2007), set 40 years after its conclusion, is a powerful testimony to the joys of friendship and the cost of unresolved hatred. The lingering effects of prejudice and unbelievable hardship weigh heavily in the lives of Benji, the descendant of American slaves, and Red, the grandson of an Irish immigrant to Canada. A chance meeting at a forensics competition brings these two different boys together; their initial conversation, in which they talk about their physical differences, is awkwardly charming and sincere. Although their communities are different, they have both grown up with the legend of a crazed former slave, a hermit called "The Madman of Piney Woods." Their friendship is complicated by the fact that Red's grandmother is extremely racist and fearful. The strong father-son relationship between Red and his father is tenderly and honestly created. Relationships between family and friends are realistically complicated, changing, and complex. The horror of Ireland's potato famine, the "coffin ships" that carried Grandmother O'Toole to Canada, and the prejudice faced by Irish-Canadians are brutally brought to life, as is the constant tension felt by the few remaining original settlers of Buxton. Although occasionally somber and heartbreaking, there is great humor, hope, and adventure from Benji and Red. The conclusion may be less powerful if readers are not familiar with Elijah, but it is stunning nonetheless. An author's note on the inspiration and creation of the story is included.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780545156646
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/30/2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 61,565
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 870L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Paul Curtis was awarded both a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor for his debut book THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM and won the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award for his second book, BUD, NOT BUDDY. Mr. Curtis is also the author of the Golden Kite Award-winning BUCKING THE SARGE, as well as MR. CHICKEE'S FUNNY MONEY, MR. CHICKEE'S MESSY MISSION, and ELIJAH OF BUXTON.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 22, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Finding Their Way

    Two boys from different cultures learn that their lives can share the same feelings of joy, hardship, love, and loss. Benji and Red appear different on the surface. Benji is from a free Black family that still can recall the outrages of slavery. Red is from an Irish family that knew the suffering of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Both families moved to Canada to start new lives. Benji loves the forest and spends as much time as he can surrounded by nature. Red is out of place in the woods, more of a townie. Benji loves the power of words and wants to be a newspaper man. Red is a believer in facts and wants to be a scientist. Little do they know that their shared meeting with the Wild Man of Piney Woods will teach them, and perhaps us, the meaning of friendship and love. This is a deeply moving story. It's powerful words reach into your heart and soul. Love, hate, prejudice, and sorrow, each in their own way, sweep the reader through the pages of this excellent book. I think some of the material, most notably the descriptions of war and it's savagery, may be too harsh for some readers in the suggested age group, 8-12. The book overall can be an excellent learning tool for these and older readers. Book provided for review by Scholastic Inc.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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