Our American History Book Club is meeting this week. Our second topic of the year is the Civil War. We actually covered the Civil War two years ago, but focused mostly on the fighting by reading Iron Thunder and Across Five Aprils. This time around, since the kids are older, I wanted to focus more on the slavery aspect of the Civil War. I can’t remember where I first came across this title, but I wrote it down immediately since it sounded perfect for American History Club.
Genre: middle-grade historical fiction
Length: 341 pages
Font: Historical, Felltype Roman
Setting: Buxton, Canada, and its surroundings, mid-1800s
Summary: Elijah was the first child born in Buxton, Canada, a community of free blacks. His life is defined by the usual childhood activities – school, chores, church, and fishing. He also helps to greet newly arrived run-away slaves to the community. Preacher (who really isn’t one and lives outside of Buxton so he doesn’t have to follow its rules) takes an unwelcome interest in Elijah, and leads to a nearly disastrous trip to the carnival. Mr. Leroy, one of the men of Buxton, gets enough money to buy his family free. In the sudden hope of seeing his family free, Mr. Leroy entrusts the money to Preacher. As Elijah’s father feared, Preacher stole the money. Mr. Leroy takes Elijah to Michigan to reclaim the money, but dies before that happens.
Final thoughts: This is exactly the type of book I hope to find for American History Club. I got a strong sense of Elijah’s life in Buxton – the chores he was responsible for and the usual childhood escapades (that often made me laugh out loud). Layered on top of that was how to welcome and treat runaway slaves who made it to the community. Curtis gave Elijah and the other occupants of Buxton a distinct dialect. This made several of Elijah’s stories even more amusing, but may cause difficulties with younger readers.
Since the story is set in Canada, we don’t see any direct depictions of slavery, but we do see how slavery has affected the people who made it to Buxton. The last vignette brings us and Elijah the closest to slavery in action when Elijah come upon a group of recaptured run-away slaves. He has to use all his growned-up skills, and not be so fra-gile, to know what to do. It provides a very moving and yet hopeful ending to the book. I can’t wait to see what the kids think of the book!
Title comes from: The narrator is Elijah, and he lives in Buxton, Canada (which was a real place – you can even visit it today).
Awards won: 2008 Newbery Honor Award, Coretta Scott King Award and Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Reading challenges fulfilled: #92 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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