by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
My childhood was filled with cautionary advice, delivered liberally:
• Don’t Talk to Strangers
• Don’t Stare
• It’s Not Your Responsibility
And the mother of all admonitions:
• Mind Your Own Business!
I do not think the adults in my life intended for me to turn away from others in need, but they also weren’t really pushing for me to dive in and immerse myself in other people’s issues.
I’m not sure if this was a deliberate attitude or if it was just a reflexive warning to keep my head down and stay out of trouble. My parents’ careers revolved around community service and public mental health, so I know they believed in helping others. And they were big readers. Always reading, always sharing books, always recommending titles.
My father, now 89, was the founder and longtime director of the Mystic Valley Mental Health Center—a Massachusetts network of community public mental-health centers. My mother was first a public school teacher, then for decades a social worker who worked with underserved populations and later with AIDS patients at the very beginning of the epidemic, when many other people were afraid and turned away.
So even though I heard those words—“mind your own business”—I never really heeded them. I love learning people’s stories and making connections. And I have always been driven to stick my nose in other people’s business: to try to be helpful and always—even as a child—connect them to great books I think they will love.
Today, in my role as Reader in Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs, it IS my responsibility to help teachers get the best books directly into the hands of all students. I am literally minding my own business when I—and our team—help teachers connect children of all learning styles and backgrounds to the widest range possible of great, affordable books to entertain, learn about current events and history, and help them make sense of their world.
That’s why we created this blog: to choose one title as a Dollar Deal each week and support it with compelling videos, original materials, and activities to enhance all readers’ connection to the book.
We chose this week’s Dollar Deal, Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, because it is important, entertaining, and compelling—and an amazing, page-turning, edge-of-your-seat story. For me, Elijah—who definitely did not mind his own business—is one of the most inspiring literary heroes I’ve met recently.
At the center of the story is Elijah Freeman, an 11-year-old boy who is the first freeborn African Canadian in Buxton. I will not spoil this plot for you, but trust us, Elijah—once considered “fragile”—is a truly awesome hero. And he demonstrates unparalleled courage when he travels from his home, in the Buxton settlement, across the US border to confront slave traders.
The story is inspiring and eye-opening. It is packed with such interesting history about the Buxton settlement and is rich with humor, humanity, brilliant language, and dialogue. If you’ve ever written anything at all, you will be so envious of Christopher Paul Curtis’s gorgeous writing. And truly grateful that you get to read this book.
“As in his previous novels, Curtis is a master at balancing the serious and the lighthearted.…His latest book is another natural award candidate and makes an excellent case, in a story positively brimming with both truth and sense, for the ability of historical fiction to bring history to life.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Here’s a pre–Civil War history lesson wrapped in an adventure story.” —USA Today
“Curtis has created a vivid setting that is easy to imagine. When the action begins, you’ll want to race through the pages.” —The Washington Post
“This is Curtis’s best novel yet, and no doubt many readers, young and old, will finish and say, ‘This is one of the best books I have ever read.’” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Many readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves, at times, on the edges of their seats in suspense and, at others, moved to tears. A fine, original novel from a gifted storyteller.” —Booklist (starred review)
“This arresting, surprising novel of reluctant heroism is about nothing less than nobility.” —The Horn Book (starred review)
“Curtis’s talent for dealing with painful periods of history with grace and sensitivity is as strong as ever.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
“Elijah of Buxton is sure to become a classic for readers of all ages.” —BookPage
“The Newbery Medal judges should just go ahead and put Christopher Paul Curtis on speed dial.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Curtis is a genius storyteller.” —Detroit Free Press
In addition to the official critical reviews, the enthusiasm for Elijah of Buxton in our Scholastic offices is…loud:
Andrea Davis Pinkney, Christopher’s editor at Scholastic, remembers when she first read the manuscript of Elijah of Buxton:
“Christopher Paul Curtis is a master storyteller. As soon as I read the very first page of Elijah of Buxton, I felt as if young Elijah was reaching his hand out to invite me on a journey. I followed along eagerly—my heart beating the whole way. And when Elijah brought me to the final moments of his narrative, I cheered and cried at the very same time.”
David Vozar said:
“One of the wonderful things about working in publishing for more than 35 years is having the opportunity to watch some very special writing careers up close.
“In 1994, I was privileged to meet Christopher Paul Curtis at the launch of his first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. His very presence and the way he lit up the room made me feel that there was something very special about this man.
“Over the years, I smiled as he won accolade after accolade with each published work.
“In preparing for this week’s Dollar Deal, I reread The Watsons Goes to Birmingham—1963 and then Elijah of Buxton. In every page, I could still feel the man I met. His compassion, humanity, and brilliance still light up the room.”
Alexie Basil, who works with me on these Life of a Reader posts, says:
“Christopher Paul Curtis has been one of my favorite authors of all time since we read The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 in my fourth grade class. I loved it so much that I retyped the first few pages to know what it felt like to have written them. Naturally, I was super-excited to read Elijah of Buxton, and I loved it just as much. It definitely did not disappoint.”
The Book Boys—Allister, Jamie, Elliott, and Max—jumped at the chance to meet Christopher in his home in Michigan and discuss Elijah of Buxton. Jamie said of the trip:
“It was a fun and unique privilege to sit down with Christopher Paul Curtis and discuss his book Elijah of Buxton. There’s so much to talk about—as the Book Boys discovered reading it. We hope this book is as thought provoking for your students as it was for us. Don’t miss our video this week for exclusive author insight about writing the book and Elijah’s journey.”
Elijah of Buxton is a Newbery Honor Book and has won numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Author Award.
I hope you and your students take full advantage of this week’s Dollar Deal, Elijah of Buxton, and celebrate this unforgettable story of an 11-year-old boy who steps up with unshakable heroism. Please watch the Book Boys interview Christopher Paul Curtis in his home; discover more about the Buxton settlement with a free classroom activity in Cooked Up from a Book; find out how one teacher uses Elijah of Buxton in his classroom in Book Talks; and learn more about the Buxton Chronicles from Christopher Paul Curtis himself in an exclusive Behind the Scenes interview!
We are truly inspired by Elijah of Buxton and are determined to help you get copies of this life-changing book into the hands of as many students as possible.
As always, I am interested to hear what you think. Please reach out to me any time at: JNBlog@scholastic.com
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs