I picked up this book because it was on a list of best children's books for 2007. So far, this has been the best of the books that were on that list. The list is for older kids, ages 8-12, but this book would be enjoyed by younger teens as well.
Elijah is an eleven-year-old boy who was the first free-born child of the freed slave settlement of Buxton. Buxton was a real place in Canada, where freed slaves could live without fear of being taken back into slavery. It also served as a place for the Underground Railroad to deliver runaway slaves to. The settlement had strict rules of conduct, a well-regarded school, and a very strong sense of community among the residents. Elijah is a fictional character, but Curtis does an excellent job of describing what Elijah's life might have been like in Buxton.
The story begins with Elijah telling of his meeting Frederick Douglass, when he was an infant. The part of the story that no one in town will let him forget is that fact that he threw up while being held aloft by the former slave. It is little anecdotes like these that tell you what kind of community Buxton is, and what life is like there. The majority of the story takes place in Buxton, where we learn about Elijah's school, his chores, and how the community welcomes new members. It gave me chills to read about how the members of the community would ring the Liberty Bell when when they were joined by newly-free former slaves. What a place of hope Buxton must have been.
The cover of this book will tell you that Elijah learns about what it really means to be a slave in America when one of the community members steals from another, money that was supposed to be used to buy the second man's family out of slavery. But that event does not take place until the end of the book, while the rest of the story is setting up for it. One of the things that I loved most about Elijah was his voice, and how he was always trying to understand what it meant to be "growned". He has to learn fast when he is alone across the border in America, but he finds the strength to do what needs to be done. This is an excellent book that is a great read for any kid who likes adventure or historical fiction.