Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, was published in 1999 by Random House.
It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him: He has his own suitcase full of special things. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!! Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him–not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.
While watching the film Coco, about ten minutes into the movie I thought, “Wow, this movie is a little bit like Bud, Not Buddy.” Don’t worry, I won’t spoil Coco, or this novel, but both function around the same premise: boy searches for lost family member tied to music.
Basically, Bud runs away from an abusive foster home to search for his lost father, who he believes is connected to the posters his mother had of a jazz band. Along the way, he runs across a “redcap” who is trying to help spread unionization, and gets involved in the world of jazz. There’s also references to Hoovervilles, as well as racial tension at the time.
It’s a book I read as a child, and one I remember quite well. Bud is a plucky, courageous protagonist, whose politeness is a breath of fresh air after reading books with rude main characters. The story is heartwarming, but also very bittersweet, especially the ending, or at least I thought so. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but this book has the capability of hitting readers very hard with Bud’s circumstances as well as what he finds out about his family. It’s a happy book, or at least it has a happy ending, but there’s still a note of poignancy that makes it far more reminiscent of reality than a stereotypical happy ending.
Bud, Not Buddy, is bittersweet, with an ending that’s almost too sudden, yet somehow fits perfectly with the overall mood of the book. Bud is a great protagonist, and he reads more like a real person than most protagonists do, in my opinion. The message is powerful and poignant and the best part about the book. It’s a memorable Newbery, one that stuck in my mind for years after I first read it.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
“Where’s your momma and daddy?”
“My mother died four years ago.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“It’s OK, she didn’t suffer or nothing.”
“So where’s your daddy?”
“I think he lives in Grand Rapids, I never met him.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Shucks, she held right on to my hand when she said that. I squirmed my hand a-loose and said, “That’s OK too.”
Deza said, “No it’s not, and you should quit pretending that it is.”
“Who said I’m pretending anything?”
“I know you are, my daddy says families are the most important thing there is.”