Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (2 1/2 stars out of 4)--
After reading the two excellent books Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, I expected great things out of Christopher Paul Curtis’s latest novel, Elijah of Buxton. If it were about 100 pages shorter and a bit more focused, I would be singing its praises right now. However, it is a good novel that you should read, and some fans of Mr. Curtis’s other novels will recognize his funny, experienced, and wisdom-soaked voice in every one of Elijah Freeman’s thoughts.
Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is the first freeborn person of African descent born in the southern Ontario settlement referred to as the Elgin Settlement at Raleigh in Canada West, but commonly known as Buxton. His main concern is his disposition, which his mother calls “fra-gile.” When Elijah runs home scared after being told a tall tale, his mother tries to toughen him up: “‘Acting that way don’t look good on no child old as you . . . get control of yourself and quit being so fra-gile’” (9-10). Elijah and his friend Cooter go to school and live normal lives for boys in 1860. The antagonist, a so-called preacher named the Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah Connerly the Third (the first four titles are dubious at best), shows his true colors when he almost sells Elijah to a flim-flam artist at a shady carnival that Elijah would never be allowed to attend if his parents knew. The con man wants to buy Elijah, and the Preacher attempts to negotiate the dirty deed, even without guardianship: “‘The boy and I would be willing to travel with you for a while if you’re willing to make certain guarantees’” (146). Something is wrong about the Preacher, but he gets a chance to prove himself when he claims he can help one of the settlers purchase his family and have them transported up to Buxton. Although Elijah’s father has his doubts, they proceed with the plan anyway.
Elijah of Buxton is a well-written book, but I believe it starts too slowly. Newbery-award-winning author Curtis attempts to use a series of vignettes of the town to create an emotional attachment to Buxton and its inhabitants. However, the novel meanders in the beginning and I yearned for a more traditional plot with a conflict, tension, climax, and resolution. I appreciated the local color and flavor of the settlement that Mr. Curtis attempts to establish, but I question whether my students will be as patient and appreciative. The exciting plot finally comes, but the novel could have begun on page 103 at the carnival and still been effective. Curtis demonstrates that he is an emotional and moving writer, and there is definitely at least one good cry and a few good laughs in Elijah of Buxton, but Curtis may have lost his edge a bit with this one. However, it is an effective portrait of an important historical time and place, and for the last 200 pages, a satisfying and exciting read.


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