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Fiction in Non-fiction
January 30, 2018

By a random chance, I found myself reading two very interesting books at the same time, last week. I have never been able to read two books at the same time, for leisure. I don’t know why I felt it necessary to read both at the same time, but once I had started them, there was no stopping – except to eat, work and sleep.

For the past few months, I have been working my way through Bookworm’s collection of award-winning children’s literature. I picked Elijah of Buxton at random. The other book The Invention of Hugo Cabret belongs to a colleague, Anandita, whose recommendations are not to be ignored, whatever your age or inclination.elijah_buxton.jpg

I started with Elijah of Buxton, which is an award winning children’s novel written by Christopher Paul Curtis and published in 2007.

This is a fictional account of the first free-born African child set in Buxton, a settlement in Canada. The settlement did exist and it was a place where freed or escaped slaves could live without fear. The settlement is now a heritage site.

The story talks about Elijah hearing about the horrors faced by his parents and others, but, as he says, this did not affect him much until he witnessed the horrors faced by a slave family, himself.

This book was slightly difficult for me to read because of the Southern-accented English. However, Elijah (and I) seemed to learn something from all of his experiences, whether humourous or shocking.

The first few chapters of Elijah of Buxton were not connected except for the protagonists, and as Anandita’s glowing review of Selznick’s Caldecott Medal winner and #1 NY Times bestseller The Invention of Hugo Cabret kept pulling me towards it, I started reading that too. I knew that the book, though large and really heavy (it was very difficult to hold open in one hand) had almost as many full-page illustrations as full-page text, but I was not prepared for what I saw when I opened the book. hugocabret.jpg

The story was interesting enough, but the balance of illustrations to text and the continuity from one to the other was mind-blowing – in a good way.

This book is the fictional account of an orphan boy, Hugo, who meets George Méliès, a French conjurer, illusionist and movie-director who lived between 1861 and 1938. The meeting and the ensuing series of events are presented beautifully in pictures and words.

The common thread between these books is the resourcefulness and sometimes rash behaviour of the children. Both the boys seemed to get into – and out of – scrapes that none of the children that I know would dare.

The question that I was left thinking about was – is adversity required to complete the all-round development of a child?

Various intellectuals and studies show that a peaceful childhood is very beneficial in the growth of a child. Though Elijah did have a reasonably peaceful childhood and Hugo too for a few years, both accepted and sorted out their problems better than most adults that I know. I don’t think I know of anyone of that age, who could or would have handled those situations in a similar manner.

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