Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. He's best known for having made a memorable impression on Frederick Douglass, but that changes when a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South. Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief and discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled--a life from which he’ll always be free, if he can find the courage to get back home.
- Discuss the settlement of Buxton, both as a real place and how it’s portrayed in the book. Who lives there and how do they get there? How does the settlement work? What prejudices and challenges to the residents still face?
- What do you think of the Preacher? Is he trustworthy? How would he justify his actions?
- Elijah’s mom says he’s “fra-gile.” What does she mean by that? How does he get this reputation? By the end of the story, is he still “fra-gile?”
- What is Elijah’s talent? How does it help him out in the book?
- Mr. Travis teaches the children in Buxton. What does he want his students to learn from the phrase -"Familiarity Breeds Contempt"? How does Cooter have a difficult time understanding this phrase? Explain how "respect" for his elders keeps Elijah from showing contempt for the Preacher.
- Mr. Leroy is offended when Elijah uses a racial slur. Elijah explains, "Sir, I only said it ‘cause I hear lots of the children say it." (p. 66) Why would Elijah think that hearing the word makes it okay to say it? How does Mr. Leroy help Elijah understand the "hatred" wrapped around the word? Discuss whether you feel that the word shows a lack of respect, both for those being spoken to, and for the speaker.
- Slavery has left its mark both physically and emotionally on many of the residents of Buxton. In what scenes does this come through? How do the characters show these scars from slavery?
- On page 158 it says “the second hardest step in making yourself free is the first one you take . . . . [and] that the most hardest step is the very last one.” What do you think that means? Why is the last step the hardest?
- Why is it so important to ring the Liberty Bell when new people come to town? Why is it such an honor?
- At the end of the book, Mr. Alston refuses to help Elijah rescue the slaves in the barn, saying “they got laws here” (p. 324). Do you think that was the right decision? Could the men or Elijah have done anything differently? What would have happened?
- Why did Chloe give up her baby to Elijah? How will the baby’s life be different in Buxton?
- How does Elijah grow and change between the first page and the last?