The Madman of Piney Woods

by Christopher Paul Curtis

In 1901, thirteen-year-old African Canadian Benji, an aspiring newspaper reporter,... read more

In 1901, thirteen-year-old African Canadian Benji, an aspiring newspaper reporter, lives with his parents and younger twin siblings in the Black Canadian town of Buxton. Thirteen-year-old Irish Canadian 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 horrible experiences in the Irish famine and 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. The man the people of Buxton call the Madman in the Woods is Cooter Bixby, an old friend of Benji’s parents traumatized by his experiences in the Civil War. Both boys have encounters that change their perceptions of this singular, initially frightening figure. Benji realizes the Madman is a kindred spirit — completely at home in nature. Red grows certain the man, though eccentric, is good-hearted. In a stand-alone, companion novel to Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic Press, 2007), Benji and Red’s friendship, organic and wonderful, represents hope even as it comes into full relief during a tragedy mired in wrong ways of thinking in a novel of high humor and exquisite grace. (Ages 9–13)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2015

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