Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: "Elijah of Buxton" by Christopher Paul Curtis

Title: Elijah of Buxton
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publisher: Listening Library, 2008 (print from Scholastic, 2007)
Narrator: Mirron Willis

Elijah was born free in Canada, in a settlement called Buxton. His parents escaped slavery in America, making it to the security and relatively happy life—and Elijah was the first baby to be born in this new country, away from the shackles America would have placed on him and his family. But life isn't perfect for the people of this community. Many still have family members who didn't make it to Canada, others have lost family to death, and most still bear the scars, both physical and psychological, of slavery.

Elijah lives in relative peace and security because of his ignorance of the way it is in America, but when one of his neighbors is robbed of the money he was going to use to free his family, Elijah makes a dangerous journey down south, past the Canadian border. He sees horrors he hopes to never see again, if only he can make it back home.

I first read Christopher Paul Curtis last summer for my children's literature class, and I've been meaning to read more of his work ever since. His books, though they have roots in racism and slavery in America, also tell incredibly engaging stories full of humor. In this Newbery Honor–winning book, also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Book Award, Curtis does an incredible balancing act, pacing the drama and danger with the more lighthearted parts of the story, and does not shy away from the horror to which slaves were subjected. Elijah of Buxton is a funny and alternately searing account of life during the mid-1800s for black people in both America and Canada. Vile characters interact with good-hearted ones, and men with good intentions make bad decisions. I couldn't often couldn't stop listening, even after I had reached my destination in my car.

Curtis also includes an excellent author's note at the end, giving a brief history of Buxton and what in his novel was real and what he fictionalized (which should always be included in a work of historical fiction). As a bonus, Curtis reads this himself in the audio.

Mirron Willis's narration was perfect. He read the dialect with authenticity and just the right amount of emotion, portraying Elijah's confusion, naivete and conviction with all the charm Curtis gives Elijah. I fell in love with Elijah through Willis's voice and excellent portrayal.

If you're looking for a way to while away the hours of your morning and/or evening commute or on a long road trip (especially with kids who have the patience to listen to audiobooks), I highly recommend this one to keep you company.

Disclosure: I got this from my local library.

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