This is a blog specifically created for the purposes of my Literature for Children and Young Adults class at Texas Woman's University. Coming soon will be reviews of titles ranging from children's fiction to poetry to young adult novels. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bud, Not Buddy

Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. Bud, Not Buddy. New York : Delacorte Press (Random House). ISBN:0385323069.

This is the story about Bud, not Buddy (as the title implies), a 10 year-old orphan boy who after getting shifted from one abusive foster home to another, with all of his prized possessions fitting in one small suitcase, finally runs away for good. While “on the lam,” he joins up with another runaway from the home named “Bugs” and the two of them decide to “ride the rails” together in search of Hooperville so they can get to Chicago where Miss Hill the Librarian has moved after having gotten married. What they end up finding is that Hooverville (with a “v”) is the name of any shanty town where homeless folks who ride the rails get together and camp. There he meets a lot of interesting people including a girl name Deza Malone who just happens to “touch my hand too much” while they’re washing dishes together. He gives her his first real girl kiss and lets her hold his hand. When Bud misses the train, he waves goodbye to Bugs and makes his way alone on foot. While walking down the road at night, he is found by someone he thinks is a vampire but who is really Mr. Lewis, transporting some fresh blood to a hospital. When the conversation turns personal, Bud tells Mr.Lewis who his father is—a bass fiddle player in Grand Rapids named Herman E. Calloway. But Mr. Lewis knows everyone in Grand Rapids … Even Mr. Herman Calloway! Mr. Lewis takes him to meet who Bud has always thought was his father, but it turns out in the end that Herman Calloway is his grandfather. Bud gets to sleep in his own dearly departed mother’s room, along with all of her old belongings. In the end, he must help his grandfather deal with the loss of Bud’s mother, now that he has finally found his home and his family.

The story is set in Michigan during the Great Depression where while it is in the north, racial tensions are still a matter of concern. Both this tension and the hunger that is a result of the economic situation are conveyed through Bud’s first person telling of his story and his interactions with people like a family that pretended he was their son so he could eat at the mission, the people of the Flint Hooverville, Mr. Lewis and even when he meets his grandfather and learns that there must always be one white man in the band as a loophole to racist laws. The characters are vivid and rich with realistic character. Not one person with whom Bud comes into contact is one-dimensional or peripheral. And Bud’s experiences seem to fit within the realm of possibility of the period. Each interaction is important and sticks in the reader’s memory. One particularly good aspect of this book is the language. It is simple yet pregnant with the vernacular of the period, giving the reader a window into the daily life and interactions of the Great Depression while still being filled with emotion:

Everything moved very, very fast when Momma was near, she was like a tornado, never resting, always looking around us, never standing still. The only time stuff didn’t blow around when she was near was when she’d squeeze my arms and tell me things over and over and over and over.

She had four favorite things to tell me, on e of them was about the picture [of her in my suitcase] and another was about my name.

She’d say, “Bud is your name and don’t you ever let anyone call you anything outside of that either.”

She’d tell me, “Especially don’t you ever let anyone call you Buddy, I may have some problems, but being stupid isn’t one of them, I would’ve added that dy onto the end of your name if I intended for it to be there. I knew what I was doing, Buddy is a dog’s name or a name that someone’s going to use on you if they’re being false-friendly. Your name is Bud, period.”

I’d say, “OK, Momma.”

And she’d say, every single time, “And do you know what a bud is?”

I always answered, “Yes, Momma,” but it was like she didn’t hear me, she’d tell me anyway.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

I’d say, “Yes Momma.”

I know she didn’t mean anything by naming me after a flower, but it’s sure not something I tell anybody about. says, “Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, once again exhibits his skill for capturing the language and feel of an era and creates an authentic, touching, often hilarious voice in little Bud.”
Publisher’s Weekly says, “While the harshness of Bud's circumstances are authentically depicted, Curtis imbues them with an aura of hope, and he makes readers laugh even when he sets up the most daunting scenarios.”
School Library Journal says, “The lively humor contrasts with the grim details of the Depression-era setting and the particular difficulties faced by African Americans at that time… Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud.”

Winner 2000 - ALA Coretta Scott King Award
Winner 2000 - ALA Notable Children's Books
Winner 1999 - School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
Winner 2000 - IRA Children's Book Award for Older Readers
Winner 2000 - ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Winner 2000 - ALA Coretta Scott King Award
Winner - ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Winner 1999 - Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year

This book would be great for discussions of race, music, the effect of the economy on relationships, teenage pregnancy and many other topics. It would be interesting to see with what themes from this book modern children might relate.

Reviewed by Joelie Key-Tissot 11/06/06


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