Scholastic Press, 2007. 978-0439023443
Winner of the 2008 Coretta Scott King Book Award; 2008 John Newbery Honor Book
Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman lives in the settlement of Buxton, Canada, a community populated by freed slaves near the American border. He has the distinction of being the first child in the town to have been born free, but he’s also seen as ‘fra-gile’ and talkative. When a former slave steals money meant to free a friend’s family from slavery, Elijah must follow the thief into the South and bring him to justice. Will he be able to overcome his ‘fra-gile’ nature and make the dangerous journey home?
Why I picked it up: Since it’s Black History Month, I wanted to highlight some of the Coretta Scott King award winners.
Why I finished it: Seeing the world through Elijah’s eyes gives the reader a greater understanding of the support the newly freed slaves depended on from each other in order to make better lives. We recognize the hope that children like Elijah represented to these communities and the promise of a future that did not include servitude. As a narrator, we don’t fault Elijah for being ‘fra-gile’ – honestly, I’m pretty darn afraid of snakes myself – because we know that he is trying hard to be an adult. Or at least, more grown up and braver than most people believe. His desire to do the right thing to help his friends and the way he decides to use his talents to help his neighbors is admirable. It’s hard not to admire his courage and his determination as he undertakes his journey. Curtis has created a wonderful snapshot of life for freed slaves in the period during and just after the American Civil War. They needed to find ways to work together in their new lives and support each other, even though there was still somewhat of a danger of being captured and taken back into captive slavery. Buxton, as Curtis points out in his author’s note, is a real place. Although portions of the accounting of the town are fictionalized, the way the settlement functioned and the notion of being self-supporting are all true facts. The town is in fact a lovely piece of history that is worth exploring. This is an enchanting story that inspires the reader to learn more about freed slave communities and makes us remember the hope offered to us by future generations, how our actions now will ensure that they have lives more fulfilling than our own.
Other related materials: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis; Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates; Shades of Gray by Caroline Reeder; Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling; Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt; Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams Garcia; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; Revolution by Deborah Wiles; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson; Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson