Christopher Paul Curtis: Close reading of characters fictional and real

INTERMEDIATE & MIDDLE SCHOOL ACTIVITY

WHAT CAN YOU LEARN? WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

Social justice learning and actions that can be taken close at hand during these uncertain times

Read about Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, 2008 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Title for Older Readers…

Just over the Canadian border from Detroit, Buxton is a small town established by runaway slaves. Eleven-year-old Elijah was the first free child born in Buxton and feels certain he’ll never live down the moment in infancy when he threw up on famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It’s hard for Elijah to fully comprehend the horrors his parents and other adults escaped; they are spare with their stories, clearly wanting to protect their children. Elijah is such a sensitive child that his parents are more determined than most to shelter him from harsh truths. But when a man known as Preacher steals the money a neighbor was saving to purchase his wife and children’s freedom, Elijah is determined to make things right. He follows Preacher over the border, not wholly innocent of the danger, but clearly far from comprehending its depth. Elijah’s openhearted, first-person voice is often funny and always forthright as he describes the adventures of a boy growing up in Buxton, and coming of age on a journey that exposes him to evidence of the darkest side of humanity. At first Elijah does not fully understand the significance of the facts before him as the harsh and harrowing truth about slavery is revealed. But as comprehension begins to dawn, he draws on knowledge of the best of humanity, rooted in his experiences as a member of a sensitive and caring community, to strengthen his courage and resolve. Christopher Paul Curtis has penned a remarkable novel that is both humorous and heartrending. Some readers may struggle at first with the mid-nineteenth century dialect in which Elijah tells his story, but the rewards are worth the challenge. 
© Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison, 2008

Check out Christopher Paul Curtis’ website, scroll down to see a video interview with him answering the question, “Is Elijah of Buxton based on real events or is it imaginary?”
Then, listen to the first part of the first chapter. Listen, and listen again if need be, until the ‘the mid-nineteenth century dialect in which Elijah tells his story’ makes sense in your ears…

Chapter 1 Snakes & Ma (Audio)

Now, take that the dialect that is in your ears, read the whole chapter closely hearing what you are reading as you go. Maybe you want to try reading it out loud…

Chapter 1 Snakes & Ma (Text)

You might like to listen to how new members to Buxton were greeted…

Welcoming Runaways to Freedom excerpt (Audio)

 

NOW LET’S GET TO NEXT STEPS!

Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:

  • ‘Snakes and Ma’ introduces us to Elijah and his best friend Cooter, to the Preacher, and to Ma and Pa. It is a chapter that draws the reader in with humor and honest intensity. While quite a story in it’s own right, it makes you want to keep reading! Now, choose just one of those characters and go back and reread the chapter focusing on that one character. Why did you choose the character that you did? What did you learn about your character’s personality and approach to life that you did not notice on your first reading? Be specific. Why  do you think you didn’t notice these things on the first go-round?  What was getting your greater attention on the first go-round? You are welcome to share insights about your character of choice or your experience of choosing and focusing on them in our comment section. Or maybe you have read Elijah of Buxton and want to share about that! (Comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or you can post on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo. 

 

  • Now let’s move to your immediate world. During a conversation in your home today, deliberately become an observer. Sit back and listen to what others are saying, laughing about, even arguing over. Then choose one person in the room to focus your attention on for a period of time. (If there are only you and one other person in your home, then be especially observant of that one person.) What did you notice about your person that you had not noticed before? How does what you notice help you understand them better? Why do think you hadn’t noticed this before? How might this new understanding change your approach to them?  Share what you realized in this process and how it changed you and your approach within your family in our comment section below  (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo.

 

We look forward to hearing from you! 

More WHAT CAN YOU LEARN? WHAT CAN YOU DO? ACTIVITIES FOR INTERMEDIATE AND MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS AT HOME

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