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Book Review

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Charlie Bobo, a 12-year-old the size of a full-grown man, comes from an unlucky family in Possum Moan, South Carolina. His father (Pap) tries to chop down a tree that sparks and kills him. The sheriff suspects Charlie of murder until he discovers a piece of flint was imbedded in the tree.

A notoriously evil slave catcher named Captain Buck visits Charlie and Ma. He says Pap owed him money, and he wants it back. Ma and Charlie quickly load up their belongings to leave town, but Captain Buck catches them on their way out. He says he’ll let Ma go if Charlie will help him recapture a family of runaway slaves who belong to his boss, Mr. Tanner.

Charlie reluctantly joins Captain Buck on a trip that will take a month or more. When they reach their destination, Detroit, the captain asks local law enforcement officers for information. Charlie and Captain Buck follow leads until they find and capture Lou and her husband, Chester. Lou feels grateful she and Chester had nine years of freedom. When Captain Buck learns they have a son attending school in Canada, he leaves Lou and Chester in the local jail and makes plans to head north.

The Detroit police warn the scruffy slave catcher he won’t be welcome in Canada. They urge him to get cleaned up so he can pose as a gentleman. He and Charlie get haircuts and new clothes. In Canada, they locate Lou and Chester’s son, Sylvanus. The boy is about Charlie’s age but much more refined and educated.

Charlie and Captain Buck convince Sylvanus they’ve come on behalf of his family to take him back to Detroit. Charlie and Sylvanus enjoy the train ride together until Captain Buck reveals the true nature of their visit. Northerners, both black and white, rescue Sylvanus at a train station and attack Charlie and Captain Buck. The mob drags the captain away.

Charlie travels back to Detroit to collect Lou and Chester. He convinces the police he’s planning to return the prisoners to Mr. Tanner, and they surrender the couple to him. Charlie pays a local blacksmith to remove their shackles and enlists a fisherman to get them across the river to Canada. The blacksmith is impressed by Charlie’s bravery and invites him to stay and live with him. An epilogue depicts Lou and Chester being reunited with their children in Canada.

Christian Beliefs

Characters make references to the Bible, Jesus and the Lord working in mysterious ways. The Possum Moan old folks recall a big storm where they said God ran His finger along the earth, meddling with humans for a laugh. Ma says that just because God gave Charlie a brain doesn’t mean he needs to be thinking so much and wearing it out.

Other Belief Systems

Captain Buck talks about having a “seventh sense” that tells him when people are plotting against him. Charlie often mentions the ongoing bad luck of the Bobo family.

Authority Roles

Charlie’s parents are simple folk who encourage him not to think too much. Charlie’s Pap was never the same after being forced to watch slaves tortured at the Tanner plantation. Ma, terrified of Captain Buck and concerned mainly for herself, makes Charlie go on the slave hunting expedition. Captain Buck is a cruel, jaded man who hates and tortures slaves. Charlie can see by the man’s scars that he has suffered in his life. A blacksmith is impressed by Charlie’s bravery and invites Charlie to live with him.


The Lord’s name is used in vain in various forms. P---, h---, arse and crap also appear. Charlie swears on his ma’s head.

Charlie has a disturbing dream in which he remembers the pain on his dying father’s face. He mentions other painful memories of his father crying out in agony during the accident that killed him. Cat hauling, a practice in which cats are purposely agitated and then dragged down the backs of slaves, is described in detail. It is one of many ways Captain Buck tortures slaves. Travelers talk about a train wreck in which people’s bodies are charred beyond recognition.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Nudity: Charlie recalls accidentally seeing his mother naked once. Charlie sees Captain Buck naked when the man is bathing in the river and notes his scars. A mob in Canada strips Charlie naked. One man points out that Charlie is just a child because the only hair he has is on his head.

Lying: Pap says the sheriff takes the idea of not bearing false witness too literally. Pap believes the sheriff would have more friends if he realized that a good lie told at the right time goes a long way.

Suicide: A man tells Charlie and the captain he gave up sailing because he learned a ship’s captain is supposed to be the last man off the boat. He says he’s not a religious man, but he knows the Bible says suicide is a sin. He says he didn’t want to sin that way.

Slavery: The story takes place at a time when many still own slaves. Captain Buck and other characters consider black people soulless animals, property that must be whipped and beaten into submission. The captain believes slave hunting is God’s work. He says slaves are ungrateful and aren’t satisfied no matter how well they’re treated. The term darkies is frequently used to describe African Americans.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Christopher Paul Curtis






Record Label



Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published



National Book Award Finalist, 2018


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