In keeping with the trend of some of the other top Newbery Award honor books in the past couple years, Elijah of Buxton is somewhat of a historical, story-telling novel (in the vein of The Underneath) focusing on African culture of decades past (like Feathers). Elijah is an extremely narrative children’s book, telling the story of the first kid (Elijah) to be born into a freed slave settlement in Canada when slavery was still very much in full swing in America. This Newbery Award honor book was particularly interesting because it’s based on a real-life freed slave settlement (Buxton) that is still around today ~ not as a settlement, of course, but as a historic landmark and testament to the slaves who escaped captivity and staked a new life up north.
For these reasons, I found this 2008 Newbery Award honoree, Elijah of Buxton, an interesting, narrative commentary on a world about which I know very little, and on which I haven’t done much research. But when I say “narrative” I mean narrative! While I enjoyed the story telling components of the book, you don’t feel like it’s getting to the climax of crux of the book until about ¾ of the way through. Since the writing and characters are very solid and well-written, you hardly notice that you’re simply sifting through story after story as told by Elijah and that you’re close to the end of the book before you start to identify the protagonist and the major struggle of the book.
Once I did identify the struggle and climax in this Newbery honoree, I was disappointed by how it was – or rather, wasn’t – resolved. It almost felt just like another one of the stories strung together by Elijah and not the main crux of the book. When looked at like that, it makes more sense that there would be loose ends left unraveled. But when looked at as the main force of the book – as I think it was meant to be – it doesn’t seem to work well.
I’ve read and written a lot about the history and future of the Newbery Award and many critics criticize it for being out of touch with what kids really want to read. Having read this Newbery honor children’s book, I can see where they’re coming from. Elijah of Buxton was a great book and provided incredibly educational and insightful commentary on what life would’ve been like for escaped slaves, but I’m kind of surprised that it won the top honors by winning a coveted Newbery honor. I thought a book like “Feathers” – which focused on some of the same basic principles – would have been better suited. But don’t take my word for it – read what some other reviewers have said on Amazon.