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Review of The Journey of Little Charlie

The Journey of Little Charlie
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    245 pp.    g
1/18    978-0-545-15666-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-16400-8    $10.99

This latest addition to Curtis’s Buxton Chronicles (Elijah of Buxton, rev. 11/07; The Madman of Piney Woods, rev. 9/14) takes place in 1858, when the Fugitive Slave Act was in force. When twelve-year-old Charlie Bobo’s South Carolina sharecropper father dies and Cap’n Buck, the evil overseer from the nearby Tanner plantation, comes to collect on a debt Charlie and his mother can’t pay, Charlie knows his world is “coming ’part at the seams.” Charlie is forced to go north with the cap’n to Detroit (and then Canada) to find the “thieves” who robbed the Tanners of four thousand dollars ten years ago — or so Charlie thinks. But as the cap’n later informs him, “Naw, fool, they didn’t steal no money, they was worth four thousand dollars when they run ’way ten year ago. They stole they own selfs.” Charlie — white, poor, racist, and ignorant—is a product of his circumstances, but when confronted with true evil and forced to be complicit in the slave trade, he transcends his upbringing and finds his conscience in time to do the right thing. Curtis’s ability to intertwine humor and tragedy, change pacing effectively, and find hope in the direst of circumstances is masterful. A shorter tale than its predecessors, this is just as powerful, and those already familiar with Elijah will be gratified to see Buxton and one character in particular come back into play. Readers will be riveted by the conclusion…if they can see the words through their tears. An appended note offers insight into the author’s process.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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