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Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is an award winning historical fiction novel told from the perspective of 11-year-old Elijah Freeman, the first child to be born free in the settlement of Buxton in Canada. Buxton is a real place settled by African Americans who had escaped the horrors of enslavement in America. Elijah is seen by his family and friends as "fra-gile", however, when he embarks on a dangerous mission to help a friend, Elijah displays courage and fortitude beyond his years. Engage students with our Elijah of Buxton activities and lessons below.

Student Activities for Elijah of Buxton

Essential Elijah of Buxton Questions

  1. What does it mean to be "free"?
  2. Who are the Elijah of Buxton characters and what challenges do they face?
  3. What were some allusions (references to real people, places, events, sports and art/literature) present in the novel? What can you learn about the time period from these allusions?
  4. What are some of the themes present in the novel?
  5. What are some examples of symbolism used by the author in the book Elijah of Buxton and how does the symbolism help you better understand the characters and their motivations?

Elijah of Buxton Plot Summary

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis was written in 2007 and tells the story of 11-year-old Elijah Freeman growing up in the settlement of Buxton in Canada in 1860. Buxton is a real place that was founded by Reverend William King in 1849 to be a refuge for people who escaped enslavement in America. Elijah tells the reader that he was the first baby to be born free in Buxton. He explains that when Frederick Douglass visited the settlement, he lifted baby Elijah in the air calling him a "shining beacon of light and hope for the future." Through Elijah's adventures and daily life, the reader becomes familiar with Buxton and its courageous and self-sufficient inhabitants.

Elijah lives with his Ma and Pa, attends school, and does many chores around the settlement to help his neighbors. Elijah is known for being "fra-gile" but he wants to be seen as "growned" and acknowledged for his expert rock throwing and fish catching. He excels in school but is also naïve and is easily tricked by the untrustworthy "Preacher" who lives just outside Buxton.

Buxton's residents are people who escaped slavery in America along with their children. They relish their newfound freedom but also work extremely hard day in and day out to create a thriving settlement that includes a school, farms, and a mill. They are a close-knit community that live by the creed: "One helping one, to uplift all." As a destination on the Underground Railroad, when new residents arrive escaping the horrors of slavery, they are welcomed with open arms and the ringing of the "Liberty Bell".

Elijah works with Mr. Leroy, who has a family still enslaved in America. Mr. Leroy works tirelessly day and night helping his neighbor Mrs. Holton clear her land so that he can earn enough money to rescue his family by "purchasing their freedom" from their enslaver. Mrs. Holton has also been saving money to similarly rescue her own husband. But when Mrs. Holton finds out that her husband has been killed by his enslaver, she gifts all the money she had to Mr. Leroy so he can save his family. Mr. Leroy is overjoyed! However, the greedy, nefarious "Preacher" tricks them all and runs off with the money!

Mr. Leroy is distraught and secretly enlists Elijah's help to go to America, so he can track down the Preacher and get the money back. Tragically, when they arrive in Michigan, Mr. Leroy passes away of a heart attack. Before he dies, Mr. Leroy makes Elijah promise that he will go after the Preacher and get the money to save his family. Elijah agrees and courageously continues the dangerous quest.

Elijah manages to find the Preacher but he has already been killed by evil slave catchers and all the money is gone. Elijah finds other enslaved men, women, and children chained by the slave catchers. He valiantly tries to free them but cannot break their chains.

Just as Elijah is about to flee the imminent danger and return to Buxton, he realizes he has a chance to rescue the baby, Hope Too-mah-ee-nee. He promises her mother that he will bring Hope to freedom in Buxton. While Elijah has to tragically leave the rest of the enslaved men and women, he manages to sneak out baby Hope Too-mah-ee-nee and brings her to freedom. As they arrive in Canada, Elijah recites the words that the settlers always say to new arrivals, "Looky there! Look at that sky! Ain't that the most beautifullest sky you ever seen? Looky there, look at that land! Look at those trees! Have you ever seen anything that precious? It's the land of the free! Today you're truly free, and you choosed the most specialist, most perfectest day for doing it!"

The lesson plans for Elijah of Buxton include analyzing characters, visual vocabulary, plot diagram, and more! Students will also look at and discuss Elijah of Buxton's quotes, themes, setting, and symbols. An additional activity could be to have students complete a Elijah of Buxton chapter summary for each chapter to dig deeper into the plot of the book.

Elijah of Buxton Customizable Lesson Plans

The above lesson plans are designed for teachers to easily copy and customize to meet the needs of their students.  The focus of these standards-aligned lessons is to help students perform a close reading of the story Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. By the end of these lessons, students will be able to identify the major plot points that make up the narrative arc of the story as well as analyze the story for theme and symbolism and much more! Read on to learn more about the activities above. Remember when you find one that you think your students will enjoy, all you have to do is click "copy". It will be immediately brought into your teacher dashboard to assign to your students that very day!

Elijah of Buxton Characters

Have students track the characters' development and growth throughout the story using a character map. An engaging way to hold reader's accountable is to have them add to their character map every time they are introduced to a new character in the story.

Visual Vocabulary Storyboard

It is critical to expand a student's vocabulary in order to expand student knowledge. Throughout reading, Elijah of Buxton, students may come upon many unfamiliar words. Students can storyboard their understanding of these words which will lead to better retention! Students can include the term, its definition and either a sentence that they create or one that is taken from the text along with an illustration that depicts its meaning.

Plot Diagram of Elijah of Buxton

Students can create a Plot Diagram of the events in the story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures as they track the actions, thoughts, and interactions of the main and supporting characters.


Have students look at the different symbols within the story. They can then choose a symbol from the story and illustrate what it represents. Some symbols to look for are: the Liberty Bell, Birdie and Mrs. Holton's sign.


Themes, symbols, and motifs are valuable aspects of any literary work, and they add richness to stories. Students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts by storyboarding!


Allusions are present throughout the novel, Elijah of Buxton, referencing actual people, places, literature, items and events from the mid 1800s in Canada and America. Students can create storyboards to display their understanding of allusions such as Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and the Underground railroad.

Favorite Quote or Scene from Elijah of Buxton

Students can choose a favorite quote or scene from the book to express which parts of the story resonated with them on a personal level. Activity instructions include many examples of quotes from the text, or students can choose their own!

Elijah of Buxton Newspaper Project

This activity encourages students to imagine what it would be like to live in Buxton and re-tell events that occurred in the book or a story that they think might occur in Buxton. Students can create a catchy headline, images and text to look just like the front page of a newspaper!

Ideas for More Elijah of Buxton Activities

  1. Storyboard your favorite scene from the novel and explain why it resonates with you.

  2. Choose a character such as Elijah, Ma, Pa, Mr. Leroy, Cooter, the Preacher, Mrs. Holton, Mr. Travers, or Emma Collins and create a poster or worksheet to display their important character traits, quotes and development throughout the story.

  3. Research some of the historical references in Elijah of Buxton such as the real place of Buxton, Canada itself! Create a timeline or a poster to display your findings.

  4. Create an Elijah of Buxton chapter summary storyboard at the end of reading each chapter as a fun and effective check-in.

  5. Christopher Paul Curtis is a famed author of many award winning novels. Conduct an "author study" and research his life and the other books he has written. Create a worksheet or poster storyboard with images and text to display your findings.

  6. Offer students the opportunity to storyboard their answers with images and text to typical Elijah of Buxton chapter questions.

  7. Create your own Elijah of Buxton study guide!

Discussion Questions to Use in Pairs or Groups

These discussion questions may be used during reading, or upon completion of the novel, Elijah of Buxton. While it is best to get students openly discussing what they’ve read, these questions can also be answered individually in a reader’s notebook. Students can benefit from hearing the different opinions and takeaways of their peers. It is always interesting to find that students can have many different perspectives, even though they are reading the same novel!

  1. Elijah is called "fra-gile". What does this mean? How did Elijah get this reputation?

  2. When does Elijah's mother realize that he is growing up and no longer "fra-gile"?

  3. When does Elijah realize that he has overcome his propensity for being "fra-gile"? Why does he feel that he has outgrown this term?

  4. What personality traits would you use to describe the "Preacher" (the Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah W. Connerly)?

  5. What tactics does the Preacher use to get Elijah to trust him?

  6. Why does Elijah feel that understanding what grown-ups say can be so difficult?

  7. Why did Frederick Douglass say that Elijah was a "shining beacon of light and hope for the future"?

  8. Which character(s) do you believe help Elijah to grow as a person? How do they contribute to his growth?

  9. What is the first clue to the reader that the Preacher is dishonest?

  10. Why do you think it takes Elijah so long to realize the truth about the Preacher?

  11. How does Elijah represent hope at the beginning of the novel? How does he represent hope at the end of the novel?

  12. What are some of Elijah's talents? Describe some times when Elijah's talents helped him out of difficult situations.

  13. "One helping one to uplift all."What does the Buxton Settlement Creed mean?

  14. Why do you think the Preacher lives "just outside the settlement"?

  15. Why does Mr. Leroy trust the Preacher? What does Pa say about Mr. Leroy's faith in the Preacher?

  16. What are some examples of the ways Buxton's residents help one another?

  17. What does Mr. Leroy mean when he says to Elijah, "Member that we gets 'long but I ain't your friend."? Why does Mr. Leroy believe this difference is important for Elijah to understand?

  18. Elijah is taught to always respect his elders. How does this advice backfire when it comes to the Preacher? Give some examples of situations where Elijah should not have respected or trusted the Preacher.

  19. Even though Buxton is in Canada where slavery is outlawed, the residents of Buxton still face challenges and racism. What are some examples?

  20. When Elijah uses a racial slur, he justifies it to Mr. Leroy by saying "Sir, I only said it 'cause I hear lots of the children say it." Why does Elijah think this makes it ok? How does Mr. Leroy help Elijah to see the "hatred wrapped up" in that word?

  21. Mr. Frederick Douglass says that the second hardest step to freedom is the first one and the hardest step of all is the last one. What does he mean by this? How is this evidenced by the Taylor family?

  22. Describe Elijah's relationship with Cooter. How does Elijah demonstrate that he is a good friend to Cooter?

  23. What does Mr. Travis try to teach the children about the phrase "Familiarity Breeds Contempt"? How does Cooter show that he has difficulty understanding what Mr. Travers means?

  24. What does Emma Collins do to help the Taylor Family take their final step to freedom? What do the other residents do?

  25. What did people like Mrs. Holton and Mr. Leroy gain by coming to Buxton? What did they lose?

  26. Why does Ma's mother beat her and yell at her when she discovers that Ma had been close enough to Canada to be able to see it across the river?

  27. Why does Chloe say that Hope loves Elijah? Later, why does Elijah lie to Chloe, Hope Too-mah-ee-nee's mother, when he tells her that he lost a baby sister?

About the Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Christopher Paul Curtis is an award-winning African American author of many beloved books for young people. His book, Elijah of Buxton, won awards for the School Library Journal’s Best Books, Booklist’s Editors' Choice, Coretta Scott King Book Award, John Newbery Medal and Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan on May 10, 1953. He was the second oldest of five siblings. His father first worked as a podiatrist and later at an automobile-assembly plant which were common in Flint. Curtis' upbringing in Flint, Michigan is reflected in many of his stories. After high school, Curtis worked with his father at the auto plant and earned enough money to attend the University of Michigan in Flint. But, he always had a passion for writing.

In 1993, Curtis decided to pursue writing full time and in 1995 The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 was published. It received the Newbery Honor Award and was even adapted into a TV movie in 2013! In 1999, Curtis wrote his second book, Bud, Not Buddy which was awarded with the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King award. Curtis also wrote: Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, The Mighty Miss Malone (which tells the story of Deza Malone who appears in Bud, Not Buddy), The Madman of Piney Woods, and The Journey of Little Charlie.

Curtis has four children and currently resides in Detroit, Michigan where he continues to enjoy writing as well as reading, playing basketball, and listening to jazz and blues music.

Helpful Resources for Teaching Elijah of Buxton

Click the links below to find more information to help teach the history behind the story, Elijah of Buxton.

  1. National Geographic resources on 'The Underground Railroad'
  2. Buxton National Historic Site and Museum
  3. National Geographic resources on 'Slavery in America'
  4. National Park Service Museum for Frederick Douglas

Buy Elijah of Buxton on Amazon.

Ideas for Post-Reading Activities

Storyboard That is an excellent tool for students to create fun and engaging projects as a culminating activity after finishing a novel. In addition to our premade activities, here are some ideas that teachers can customize and assign to students to spark creativity in individual students, pairs, or small groups for a final project. Several of these ideas include Storyboard That templates that can be printed out or copied into your teacher dashboard and assigned digitally. All final projects can be printed out, presented as a slide show, or, for an extra challenge, as an animated GIF!

  1. For Groups: Choose a scene from the story and write a short play to reenact to the class. Use the traditional storyboard layout to plan out your scenes. You can add text to your storyboards, or simply use the cells to visualize each scene of your play.

  2. Using the timeline layout, retell the story in chronological order. Our timeline layout gives you the options to include year, month, day, and even hour! You may also choose to omit these altogether.

  3. Choose a setting from the story and create a map of the setting using the small poster or worksheet layout. Use free form or other text boxes to include a key or label the different parts of the map.

  4. Using one of Storyboard That’s board game templates, create a game based on the book for your classmates to play!

  5. For Groups: Divide the chapters of the book amongst your group members. Each member of the group creates a storyboard for their assigned chapter. This can be done as a collaborative project, or separately for longer novels.

  6. Using the worksheet layout and Storyboard That’s worksheet assets, create a test or a quiz for other students in the class. You can create all kinds of questions such as multiple choice, short answer, and even matching! When you are done, be sure to make an answer key.

  7. Using one of Storyboard That’s biography poster templates, create a poster about the character of your choice. Be sure to include important biographical features such as: place and date of birth, family life, accomplishments, etc.

  8. Choose a chapter from the novel and create a storyboard that shows that chapter from another character’s point of view. For an extra challenge, use the T-chart layout to compare the original point of view with another character’s point of view!

  9. Create a book jacket of the novel using one of Storyboard That’s book jacket templates. Use Storyboard That art to create the cover, and write a summary of the story on the back, just like real books have!

  10. Using one of Storyboard That’s social media templates as a starting point, create a social media page for one or more of the characters in the novel. Be sure to think how the character thinks while creating this page.

  11. Create a scrapbook page made by one of the characters in the novel. Storyboard That has lots of premade templates that you can use as is, or change to fit your character’s personality! Check out our scrapbook templates today!

How to Teach Elijah of Buxton in the Classroom



Introduce the novel Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, explaining its historical fiction genre and setting in the settlement of Buxton in Canada. Highlight the significance of the protagonist, Elijah Freeman, and the themes of freedom and courage.


Essential Questions

Discuss essential questions related to the novel, such as the meaning of freedom, the challenges faced by the characters, the use of allusions, the presence of themes and symbolism, and the impact of the character's motivations.


Character Analysis and Symbolism

Engage students in character analysis by creating character maps or posters that depict the important traits, quotes, and development of characters like Elijah, Ma, Pa, Mr. Leroy, and the Preacher. Explore the use of symbolism in the book and have students choose a symbol to illustrate its representation.


Plot Diagram and Themes

Have students create a plot diagram that highlights the major events and narrative arc of the story. Discuss the themes present in the novel, such as courage, friendship, community, racism, and the pursuit of freedom.


Culminating Activities

Assign culminating activities to deepen students' understanding of the book. These can include creating a visual vocabulary storyboard, analyzing allusions in the story, completing a chapter summary storyboard, or conducting research on the historical references and the author, Christopher Paul Curtis.

Frequently Asked Questions about Elijah of Buxton

How did Elijah of Buxton meet Frederick Douglass?

Elijah tells the reader that he was the first baby to be born free in Buxton, Canada. This was a real place that was settled by formerly enslaved people. It was founded in 1849 by Reverend William King to be a refuge for people who had escaped slavery in America. Elijah explains that after he was born, Frederick Douglass visited the settlement. During a speech to the community, Frederick Douglass lifted baby Elijah in the air calling him a "shining beacon of light and hope for the future."

What was the creed of Buxton?

Buxton's residents are people who escaped slavery in America along with their children. They are a hard-working and close-knit community that live by the creed: "One helping one, to uplift all." As a destination on the Underground Railroad, when new residents arrive escaping the horrors of slavery, they are welcomed with open arms and the ringing of the "Liberty Bell".

What happened to Mrs. Holton's husband?

Mrs. Holton has been saving money to rescue her husband who is still enslaved in America. However, she finds out that, tragically, her husband was killed by his enslaver. After this revelation, she gives the money she had been saving to Mr. Leroy. She hopes that even though she could not save her husband, Mr. Leroy will be able to save his wife and family who are still enslaved in America.

Who stole Mrs. Holton's money from Mr. Leroy?

The greedy and nefarious "Preacher" tricked Mr. Leroy into giving him Mrs. Holton's money and then he ran off and disappeared. Mr. Leroy is distraught and secretly asks Elijah for his help to go to America, track down the Preacher and get the money back.

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our English Language Arts Category!
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