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The madman of Piney Woods
First edition.
Physical Description:
363 pages : illustration ; 22 cm
General Note:
Companion book to: Elijah of Buxton.
Reading Level:
870 L Lexile
Even though it is now 1901, the people of Buxton, Canada (originally a settlement of runaway slaves) and Chatham, Canada are still haunted by two events of half a century before--the American Civil War, and the Irish potato famine, and the lasting damage those events caused to the survivors.


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Bestselling Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis delivers a powerful companion to his multiple award-winning ELIJAH OF BUXTON.

Benji and Red couldn't be more different. They aren't friends. They don't even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real?

In a tale brimming with intrigue and adventure, Christopher Paul Curtis returns to the vibrant world he brought to life in Elijah of Buxton. Here is another novel that will break your heart -- and expand it, too.

Author Notes

Newbery Medal-winning children's book author Christopher Paul Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan on May 10, 1953 and graduated from The University of Michigan. While there he won the Avery and Jules Hopwood Prizes for poetry and a draft of one of his early books. Curtis spent thirteen years on an assembly line hanging car doors.

His story The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 received a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor, and Bud, Not Buddy became the first novel to win both of these awards. Elijah of Buxton received the 2008 Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and a Newbery Honor. Curtis also won the 2009 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers' Literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1901, Benji Alston lives in Buxton, Ont., a real-life town settled by abolitionists and runaway slaves (and the setting of Curtis's Newbery Honor-winning Elijah of Buxton). Alvin "Red" Stockard, son of an Irish immigrant and a local judge, resides in nearby Chatham. The woods of the title connect the two towns, and both boys have grown up hearing cautionary tall tales about a wild boogeyman who lives there. Writing in his customary episodic style, Curtis relates their separate stories in alternating chapters, incorporating a large cast, his trademark humor and gritty hijinks, and the historical events that shaped the people and the area: slavery, the U.S. Civil War, and Irish immigration. It takes more than half the book for the boys-both 13-and their stories to connect, which may try the patience of some readers. Those who persist, though, will be rewarded with an update on what became of Elijah, the hero of the first book, as Curtis delivers an ending that ties together the two stories, set 40 years apart, in a poignant and powerful way. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In this companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton (rev. 11/07), it is now 1901, and for thirteen-year-old Benji Alston of Buxton, Ontario, the American Civil War is ancient history--great material for war games, but tedious when the Buxton elders harp on it. Life for this African Canadian nature lover involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings, spending time with his best friend Spence, and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. In nearby Chatham lives Alvin "Red" Stockard, a scientifically inclined Irish Canadian boy whose borderline-abusive grandmother tells horrific stories of the Potato Famine and coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River, tales that, in her mind, justify her inflexible hatred of Canadians and "anyone whose skin is darker than [hers]." The two boys eventually meet and become friends, discovering unexpected similarities in each other and their family histories. And then there is that supposedly mythical woodland monster--called the Madman of Piney Woods by Buxton residents and the South Woods Lion Man by Chatham folk--who tragically and irrevocably brings the past into the present for both boys. Curtis takes his young protagonists--and his readers--on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words. monica edinger (c) Copyright 2014. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The year is 1901 in this companion volume to Curtis' Newbery Honor winner Elijah of Buxton (2007). The coprotagonists are African Canadian Benji of Buxton and Irish Canadian Red of nearby Chatham. Each brief chapter alternates between the two as readers learn that Benji longs to be a journalist, and Red, a scientist. At first, they seem to have little in common except their respective encounters with a strange, frightening hermit known to Benji as the Madman of Piney Woods and known to Red as the South Woods Lion Man. Call him what you will, he becomes a large presence in the book when the two boys finally meet almost 200 pages into the story and quickly become fast friends. Another large presence is Red's termagant grandmother, who despises black Canadians and from whom Red keeps his new friendship with Benji a secret. The grandmother is a vehicle for Curtis to examine the terrible experiences of early Irish immigrants to Canada, experiences that are not unlike those of blacks in America. Though sometimes overly discursive, the novel is otherwise a delight, featuring the author's obvious love for his characters, his skillful use of sentiment, and his often hyperbolic humor Benji's laboring to reconstruct his younger siblings' tree house upside down (you have to be there) is priceless. It is, in short, quintessential Curtis, sure to please his legions of fans and to cultivate new ones.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

RARELY HAVE I read a children's book so suspenseful that it's made me worry about being stranded in the weeds with the bleak, hateful aspects of human nature. But Christopher Paul Curtis's "The Madman of Piney Woods" did just that. Again and again, I doubted that what would happen next would be O.K. for young and old readers alike. Yet at every turn of this middle-grade novel, a "companion book" to the Newbery Honor-winning "Elijah of Buxton," Curtis deftly makes what might have been simply heart-rending hopeful and redeeming instead. There's a thrill ride of a plot that flirts with a perilous adult-level depiction of tragedy, but banks away into something manageable for a 9-year-old. Even - ahem - a sensitive middle-aged man will be entertained but not traumatized by the book's memorably shocking events (though in the case of a character called Grandmother O'Toole, Curtis has created an embodiment of such hatefulness that when her unvarnished racism is combined with her recollections of the horrors of the typhus-ridden "coffin ships" full of dying Irish emigrants stranded offshore, I actually want to forget her so I can sleep better at night). But I'm getting ahead: "The Madman of Piney Woods" takes place 40 years after the events in "Elijah of Buxton" and is narrated by Benji, a black boy, and Red, a ginger-haired kid of Irish ancestry, in alternating chapters. These kids from very different backgrounds meet and bond and solve a mystery together in the wilds of Piney Woods, delivering a solid sense of what life was like in small Canadian towns in 1901. We also meet Petey and Curly, who represent the dark side of life in Piney Woods and who resonate beyond the page, as many of the book's secondary characters do. Both boys are deeply troubled. Petey's rage springs from being of mixed race: Half Cree and half Irish, he hardly utters a word. He allows the brutalized and brutal Curly to hit him, and he won't retaliate though he has Jack Johnson-like ability with his hands. Curly would like to blame his own battered and disfigured face on Petey, instead of the true monster of the novel, Curly's vicious and cowardly father. but the character at the heart of "The Madman of Piney Woods" is really Cooter, an African-American who wears his hair in what we would call today a Rasta style. When we first meet the boys who live in and around Buxton, they are playing Civil War. Eventually, it's Cooter, an actual Civil War survivor who has turned to the woods for his solace and become an almost mythical, terrifying creature, who gives them the terrible message of the savagery of real combat. As for Benji and Red, they both aspire to lofty goals, but they aren't jerks about it. The reader pulls for them as they work at becoming adults. Benji seems to have the best of it, with parents who are strict but loving. Red's widowed dad is affectionate, but his grandmother, the aforementioned Mrs. O'Toole, has seen so much tragedy that she's become unhinged with anger. Poor Red has to resort to subterfuge to stay ahead of her wildly swinging cane. Both boys' confidence and ambition are forged by family support; the kids who suffer most in this novel are those whose family life is hell. My own great-grandparents, an Irishman living in Canada and his wife, a mixed -race Canadian woman, arrived in New Orleans in the late 1890s, and "The Madman of Piney Woods" made me think about that trajectory. As an African-American, I found it a relief to spend time with Benji's tightknit African-Canadian family. They forge ahead into the 20 th century without having to be constantly concerned with some punishment the government might direct at them, and it makes the novel even more of a pleasure to read. JERVEY TERVALON'S novels include "Understand This," "Dead Above Ground" and, most recently, "Monster's Chef."

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007), set 40 years after its conclusion, is a powerful testimony to the joys of friendship and the cost of unresolved hatred. The lingering effects of prejudice and unbelievable hardship weigh heavily in the lives of Benji, the descendant of American slaves, and Red, the grandson of an Irish immigrant to Canada. A chance meeting at a forensics competition brings these two different boys together; their initial conversation, in which they talk about their physical differences, is awkwardly charming and sincere. Although their communities are different, they have both grown up with the legend of a crazed former slave, a hermit called "The Madman of Piney Woods." Their friendship is complicated by the fact that Red's grandmother is extremely racist and fearful. The strong father-son relationship between Red and his father is tenderly and honestly created. Relationships between family and friends are realistically complicated, changing, and complex. The horror of Ireland's potato famine, the "coffin ships" that carried Grandmother O'Toole to Canada, and the prejudice faced by Irish-Canadians are brutally brought to life, as is the constant tension felt by the few remaining original settlers of Buxton. Although occasionally somber and heartbreaking, there is great humor, hope, and adventure from Benji and Red. The conclusion may be less powerful if readers are not familiar with Elijah, but it is stunning nonetheless. An author's note on the inspiration and creation of the story is included.-Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Forty years after Elijah Freemans exploits in Elijah of Buxton (2007), 13-year-olds Benji Alston and Red Stockard become friends as Curtis revisits Buxton, Ontario, in a fine companion novel.Benji and Red dont meet for 200 pages, their separate lives in 1901 related in alternating first-person narratives. Benji, an African-Canadian boy in Buxton, and Red, a white boy of Irish descent living in nearby Chatham, have fairly ordinary and free lives. Benji dreams of becoming the best newspaperman in North America; Red mostly wants to survive his crazy Grandmother OToole. Echoes of history underlie the tale: Benji lives in a community settled by former slaves; Red is the grandson of a woman haunted by the Irish Potato Famine and the horrors of coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River. Both boys know the legend of a mysterious creature in the woods, called the Madman of Piney Woods by Benji, the South Woods Lion Man by Red. And, indeed, this madman and his woods ultimately tie the whole story together in a poignant and life-affirming manner. Humor and tragedy are often intertwined, and readers will find themselves sobbing and chuckling, sometimes in the same scene. Though this story stands alone, it will be even more satisfying for those who have read Elijah of Buxton.Beautiful storytelling as only Curtis can do it. (authors note) (Historical fiction. 9-13) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



From THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS As a cold shiver ran through my body and heat flushed through my face, I quickly lost my courage and forgot all about leaping through the picture window. Even more shamefully, I also forgot about my heroic plan to grab Benji and escape with him. Knocking over the chair I had been pretending I was going to sit in, all I could manage to do was run toward the kitchen and shout, "Oh, Benji! Please! For the love of God, run!" I can only imagine the confused look that must have come to Father's face when Benji hollered over his shoulder, "Thank you very much for having me over for supper, sir, the conversation was stimulating, your company was exhilarating, and that was one of the finest meals I've ever had!" Benji jostled past me as we ran through the kitchen and spilled out onto the back porch. "Keep running!" I yelled. "Don't listen to anything she says, she's very confused!" Three blocks from home, just outside of the funeral parlour I grabbed the back of Benji's jacket and pulled him to a stop. I leaned over, put my hands on my knees, and gasped to him, "I'm fairly certain we're safe. I don't think she can run this far." "You don't think who can run this far? Who are we running from?" "Grandmother O'Toole!" "Who?" "My mother's mother." "Your grandmother? We're running like this from your grandmother?" Excerpted from The Madman of Piney Woods 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.

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