Elijah of Buxton is the first free born black child, the son of two freed slaves, who escaped to Buxton, Ontario, a little settlement just North of the US-Canada border.

Elijah is a likeable character and a typical 11 year old boy in his often humorous adventures and antics. In every other way, he is unlike most 11 year old boys, as he grows up in a small community that is adjusting to a brand new life of freedom.

Christopher Paul Curtis masterfully contrasts the perils of slavery with glory of liberty when Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to Michigan in hopes of recovering some money that had been stolen from his friend. It is here that Elijah sees the inhumanity and terror his parents fled from. His experience turns him from a “fra-gile” boy into a young man of great understanding, as he must find the courage to make it back home safely.

This story is superb at holding a reader’s attention. It requires mental gymnastics to follow along through events that will have you bursting with laughter, crying from tragedy, and feeling relieved and triumphant when each physically and emotionally battered slave successfully crosses over into the “land of the free,” determining to build a new, vibrant world for their own children.

In terms of language flow, I found Elijah of Buxton to be a challenge for young readers, as Christopher Paul Curtis uses an unfamiliar dialect in the conversational portions of each chapter. I had trouble with this too, at first, but once you get familiar with the voice, it becomes easier to hear it in your head, and adds a fun dimension to the story.

Depending on how well your children read, I would recommend this Elijah of Buxton for the middle grades, as a family read aloud, or the unabridged audiobook, which we also enjoyed.

One more thing, I believe is important to note: the minister in this story is not a very respectable character. This bothered me at first, because I want our children to have a high view of God’s servants and didn’t want this story to undermine their perception of pastors.

However, I also want our children to realize that the best men are men at best, and that we are not to put our trust in princes (Psalm 146: 3-5). We ended up having a great conversation about wolves in sheep’s clothing, and how our confidence and hope must always be in the Creator, not the creature.