In this standalone companion to the Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning Elijah of Buxton, author Christopher Paul Curtis returns to the Canadian town founded in the 1860s by former African-American slaves. Although few of the original settlers still live in Buxton in 1901, one of their descendants, Benji Alston, stands out. An aspiring newspaper reporter, Benji understands the power of the written word and enters an apprenticeship with Miss Cary, the daughter of real-life Mary Ann Camberton Shadd, an abolitionist and journalist in neighboring Chatham. Also residing in Chatham is Alvin “Red” Stockard, who is often mistreated by his bitter and racist grandmother, who suffered during the Irish immigration to Canada during “The Great Hunger.”
Benji and Red alternate as narrators, incorporating historical details and fun antics from the first book. As they become fast friends, they realize they’ve both heard tales of the Madman of Piney Woods, who is rumored to be an escaped slave from the U.S. and may even be a potential murderer. When the boys face a shocking encounter with the Madman, each begins in his own way to understand the nature of fear and heroism. Countering heartbreak with humor, Curtis gives middle-grade readers another fine novel to ponder the wonders of humanity.