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The Madman of Piney Woods

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Published by Scholastic Press, 2014
384 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-15664-6

Ages 9-13

In 1901, thirteen-year-old African American Benji, an aspiring newspaper reporter, lives with his parents and younger twin siblings in the Black Canadian town of Buxton. Thirteen-year-old Irish American Red, an aspiring scientist, lives in nearby Chatham with his father and immigrant grandmother. Benji gets work in Chatham as an apprentice at a Black-owned newspaper, where the demanding, good-humored woman owner shapes his talent as a writer (Benji is prone to high drama and alliteration). Meanwhile, patience-tested Red is gaining insight into his unlikable, bitter grandmother, who was scarred by her experiences in the Irish famine and the trauma she faced as a new immigrant. Red thinks it should make her particularly sensitive to racism; instead, she is hateful and bigoted. The boys are drawn together by their good hearts, humor, intelligence, and fascination with differences in how they think about the world. Meanwhile, the man the people Buxton call the Madman in the Woods and the people of Chatham call the South Woods Lion Man is Cooter Bixby, an old friend of Benjiís parents whose experiences in the Civil War left him emotionally damaged. Benjiís encounters transform his understanding of the Madman from frightening figure to kindred spirit--someone else completely at home in nature--while Redís experience leaves him certain the Lion Man, although eccentric, is good hearted. In a stand-alone, companion novel to Elijah of Buxton, Benji and Redís friendship, organic and wonderful, represents hope even as it comes into full relief during a tragedy mired in wrong ways of thinking. Christopher Paul Curtis has once again penned a novel of high humor and exquisite grace.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center


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