The journey of little Charlie

Christopher Paul Curtis

Book - 2018

When his poor sharecropper father is killed in an accident and leaves the family in debt, twelve-year-old Little Charlie agrees to accompany fearsome plantation overseer Cap'n Buck north in pursuit of people who have stolen from him; Cap'n Buck tells Little Charlie that his father's debt will be cleared when the fugitives are captured, which seems like a good deal until Little Charlie comes face-to-face with the people he is chasing.

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Historical fiction
New York : Scholastic Press 2018.
Main Author
Christopher Paul Curtis (author)
First edition
Physical Description
234 pages ; 22 cm
Newberry Medal winner.
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

How does it feel to almost die of thirst? Most readers will never know, though this riveting book will make many feel as if they've had a taste of it. Twelve-yearold Nisha and her family, refugees headed for the border of India, are on a desperate journey through the desert. Nisha's legs start "quivering like jelly in the heat," her "teeth feel like apricot skin" and, when she tries to stand, "my arms and legs felt filled with sand." Set in 1947, the novel tells the story of Nisha's family's struggle during the bloody events of Partition, when India was divided into two countries after the nation's independence from Britain. Nisha and her brother, Amil, are from a mixed family; their deceased mother was Muslim and their father, a respected physician, is Hindu. As violence looms, the family must flee their comfortable home in what's now Pakistan and cross the border to the new India. Nisha is especially bereft at her separation from the family's kind Muslim cook, Kazu, who kindles her love of cooking (a freshly folded samosa feels to her like a "small animal, soft and warm in my hand") and encourages her to keep a diary. Hiranandani ("The Whole Story of Half a Girl") does a remarkable job conveying the terrors and absurdities of the conflict in ways young readers can understand. Neighbors turn against neighbors and fear is so thick that even children are seen as a threat. ("What side are we even on?" Amil asks at one point.) She's also created a family with satisfying complexity: While the father is a good man, he shows scorn for Amil's poor academic performance. But it's the family's dramatic journey that will keep readers to the end. The finale - unabashedly weepy, deeply cathartic - is as satisfying as a long, cool drink of water. CHECKED By Cynthia Kadohata 400 pp. Atheneum. $16.99. (Ages 10 to 14) "I've known for a long time that you gotta be intense about stuff, since anything can happen in the future." So says Conor McRae, the 11-year-old hockey player at the heart of Kadohata's quiet, masterly seventh novel. Conor is nothing if not intense about his sport - his goal of making it to the N.H.L. pushes him to 4 a.m. wake-up times and grueling practices where coaches pinch his neck and scream, "Why aren't you moving your feet?!! " But hockey is an expensive pursuit and Conor's dad, a police officer, barely makes enough to cover equipment. Then Conor's dog and "soul mate," Sinbad, develops cancer and Conor must face the messy aspects of life outside hockey - his dad's depression, his estranged maternal grandparents (Conor's mom died when he was 2), the possibility of life without Sinbad. You don't have to know about power skating or stick time to get sucked into this moving story. The Newbery Medalwinning Kadohata ("Kira-Kira," "The Thing About Luck") gives readers a fascinating window into the world of elite junior athletes, those kids who seem to live "on a whole different planet" from their classmates. Conor is impossible not to like; hardworking and kind, he's capable of 33 perfect push-ups and a killer slap shot, but still says lovably lunkheaded stuff like, "Someone should declare Taco Bell a national treasure." And Kadohata's portrayal of the steady relationship between Conor and his dad is refreshing - a welcome reminder that not all father-son relationships are fraught and dysfunctional. "When I started playing, it was like Dad was living through me, but not in a bad way," Conor says. "It was more like him and me got so bonded he was out there with me." THE JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE By Christopher Paul Curtis 256 pp. Scholastic. $16.99. (Ages 9 to 12) Curtis's books occupy that all too rare space in middle grade lit; they're school curriculum standbys that are also crowd pleasers. Teachers like the way Curtis explores family dynamics and social justice through historical fiction. Fifth graders think it's hilarious when a kid gets his lips stuck while trying to kiss his reflection in a frozen mirror (see: "The Watsons Go to Birmingham"). Curtis's ninth novel is among his most suspenseful, an adventure story about a white sharecropper's son in antebellum South Carolina. "Little Charlie" Bobo is just 12, but at 6-foot-4, he looks as "growed and strong" as "a man and a half." When Charlie's father dies, the boy becomes easy prey for Captain Buck, the overseer of a plantation with a "rep-a-tation knowed even beyond Richland District." The fearsome Cap'n tricks Charlie into helping him hunt down two slaves who have escaped to Detroit. And so Charlie embarks on a tense journey north, simultaneously captor and captive. Readers who like their books packed with thrills will find plenty of action (horses, gunplay and disguises, for starters), to get their blood pumping. But a gentle tale this is not. Curtis doesn't sugarcoat the horrors of the time. We see the Cap'n "clenching on to a blood-dripping whip whilst standing o'er the shredded-open back" of a man and get a vivid description of cat hauling, one of the cruelest practices in the history of American slavery. At times, it's practically Tarantino-esque: "I will kill you, come back and kill your ma and anything else that was ever alive on that land," the Cap'n threatens Charlie. But Curtis is also a master at shifting tones - and so for every nail-biting moment, there's a note of goofy joy or slapstick humor (often about Captain Buck's "ripish" body odor). The novel gets a bit heavy-handed when Charlie meets a doppelgänger of sorts, the equally oversize 12-year-old son of the runaway couple, but "Little Charlie" is a keeper. Raised in poverty, ignorance and racism, Charlie develops his own moral compass - and becomes brave enough to act on it. THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY By April Stevens 196 pp. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99. (Ages 8 to 12) Some books are about stuff happening. This isn't one of them. But what this understated middle grade debut might lack in plot, it more than makes up in observation, mood and full-on feeling. Frances Pauley is a dreamy 11-year-old who spends hours in her "rock room," the rock formation behind her house, where she watches crows, tracks bugs and does her homework. A solitary soul, she calls herself "Figgrotten." "Giving herself this name felt strangely freeing," Stevens writes. Like a young Ramona Quimby, she has that un-self-conscious, unquestioning sense of self that all too often vanishes in girls when they hit adolescence. Figgrotten's main conflict is with her 13-year-old sister, who has withdrawn into sullen teenagerdom and wants nothing to do with her "little ugly freak" sister. A new boy in her class who's becoming the teacher's favorite also has Figgrotten seething. And she harbors the first inklings of self-doubt after being mocked at school. When she's confronted with a sudden loss, she feels utterly alone. Can a child with an inner life as fierce and private as Frances' make her way toward friendship and connection? There's much about Frances' story that might cause some to label it a "girl book" - the very pretty cover art by Sophie Blackall, for starters, and the emotional weight packed into a tiny pink hair clip - but there's plenty for boys to appreciate too. Any younger sibling will connect to Figgrotten's hurt and bewilderment when she is shut out by her sister. And the image of Figgrotten's bedroom, crammed with "crazy leaves that were the size of dinner plates, hickory nuts that had absolutely perfect holes gnawed in them, rocks with mica shining inside them," all of which she's laid out "in a trail that went all the way around the edge of the room," is nothing short of magical. CATHERINE hong, a contributing editor at Elle Decor, blogs about children's books at

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [March 11, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review

Little Charlie Bobo, 12, is not so little in fact, he's big enough that the cruel plantation overseer, Cap'n Buck, forces him, in lieu of paying a family debt, to join him traveling from South Carol-liney all the way to Dee-troit to collar a gang of thieves who stole from Buck's boss. Readers may guess it before Bobo figures it out: the thieves are enslaved people who escaped to Canada's freedom, and what they stole was themselves. In this third volume of Curtis' celebrated Buxton Chronicles, the focus is on penniless, white Charlie, who must come to terms with the job for which he's been drafted and hopefully orient his moral compass. It's a daring gambit that pays off: Charlie's emotions swing from initial fear to later excitement to eventual dread. The subject matter can be brutal Bobo speaks somewhat graphically of torture and killing but Curtis is unafraid to show Charlie periodically enjoying himself. Even Buck, a broad villain to begin with, develops fascinating facets. Ultimately inspiring, but never simplistic, this should spark plenty of discussion.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Echoing themes found in Curtis's Newbery Honor-winning Elijah of Buxton, this exceedingly tense novel set in 1858 provides a very different perspective on the business of catching runaway slaves. Eking out a living as South Carolina sharecroppers, the Bobo family knows hard luck. After 12-year-old Charlie's father is killed in a freak accident, Charlie reluctantly agrees to pay off his father's debt by accompanying a plantation overseer, the despicable Captain Buck, on a hunt for three runaways. Charlie's journey takes him north to Detroit and Canada where black people and white people work and live peaceably together. Sickened by the dirty business of rounding up former enslaved men and women, Charlie hatches a risky scheme to steer them to safety. Curtis portrays Charlie as a product of his white Southern upbringing and values, skillfully conveying how his widening view of the world leads to a change in his thinking. Written in persuasive dialect and piloted by a hero who finds the courage to do what he knows is right, Curtis's unsparing novel pulls no punches as it illuminates an ugly chapter of American history. Ages 9-12. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Oversized like an ox, 12-year-old Charlie Bobo and his sharecropper parents eke out a living on the Tanner Plantation deep in South Carolina in 1858. When an accident takes his father's life, Charlie and his mother must settle a debt with the plantation's sadistic overseer, Cap'n Buck. The despicable overseer forces Charlie to accompany him to Detroit to retrieve $4,000 worth of stolen property. Charlie's journey covers more than miles as he finally realizes the stolen property isn't material but human. Outside his norm of Southern life, he sees his white privilege and the horrors of people claiming ownership of other people. It truly sickens him, but he feels trapped by his father's debt. Cap'n Buck and Charlie venture into Canada to capture their last fugitive slave: Sylvanus, a boy just Charlie's age. When he sees the similarities in their lives despite their different races, Charlie knows he cannot be party to the legal evil of slavery any longer ("I knowed Sylvanus and his ma and pa was gonna be slaves 'gain. And I knowed it would be my doings that caused it."). Charlie alters the course of his journey right then, changing his life forever. His choice shows that no matter one's upbringing-Charlie lived in poverty, racism, and ignorance-a person can choose right. Curtis's use of dialect lends the story authenticity, though it may slow down less confident readers. The violence of slavery is not shied away from and use of historically accurate, derogatory terms for black people are used. Young readers will benefit from discussion during and after reading. VERDICT A thought-provoking book from a master storyteller.-Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

In 1858 South Carolina, twelve-year-old Charlie Bobo must go north with a plantation overseer to find "thieves." When white, ignorant Charlie (a product of his circumstances) is forced to be complicit in the slave trade, he finds his conscience and does the right thing. While shorter than its Buxton Chronicles predecessors (Elijah of Buxton; The Madman of Piney Woods), this tale is just as powerful, masterfully intertwining humor and tragedy. (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A white sharecroppers' son finds himself on a mission to recapture a family that has escaped slavery.A few weeks after the death of Little Charlie Bobo's father, Cap'n Buck, the overseer of the plantation on which they farm, tells the 12-year-old and his ma that the elder Charlie Bobo had taken a down payment on a job to recover lost property. In this way, Charlie becomes a partner with a man known for his cruelty on a mission to track enslaved people. When Cap'n Buck finds the family he is looking for, he discovers the son of the family, Sylvanus Demarest, is attending school in Canada, and their mission becomes an international kidnapping. Newbery winner Curtis once again successfully draws on the stories about enslaved people who found freedom in Canada; the pursuit of Sylvanus Demarest is based on an actual incident. By seeing the story through the eyes of a poor white boy and a white overseer, readers confront how so many were connected by slavery. Curtis demonstrates in dramatic fashion how much the formerly enslaved valued their freedom and what they were willing to do to help one of their own remain free. The narrative is briskly paced, and both Little Charlie and Sylvanus are compelling characters. The Southern whites speak in dialect, and they refer to black people with the offensive term "darkie," both authentic to the 1858 setting. A characteristically lively and complex addition to the historical fiction of the era from Curtis. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Sweat was pouring out of every part of my body. We'd been standing in the alley for the longest time afore the Cap'n finally said, "Don't turn now, that's her with the sack and the bonnet." The Cap'n had me as a shield, ducking behind me so the woman couldn't see him. Soon's she walked on by the alley he give me a shove and I was on the sidewalk behind the woman. Following the plan I run out in the street till I was ten yards past then turned to face her. I said, "'Scuse me, Ma'am, do you know where..." Both me and the woman gasped. I thought the Cap'n had made a mistake, 'cause whilst this woman did have a eye patch and a scar running 'crost her cheek, he hadn't said nothing 'bout her skin! She was colored! How could a woman who didn't look no different than the slaves I'd seent 'round Possum Moan be the leader of a gang that robbed Mr. Tanner of four thousand dollars? Excerpted from The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.