Bud, Not Buddy

by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999)

Bud, Not Buddy is the Newbery Award-winning follow-up to Christopher Paul Curtis’s acclaimed The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. It tells the story of Bud (not Buddy), a ten-year-old African-American boy in search of his father in Depression-era Michigan. Bud’s mother has died, landing him in the Home, an orphanage in Flint. When he is sent to live with a terrible foster family, he sets out on the lam to find the father he has never known.

Bud is a winning narrator as he peppers the account of his ups and downs with insights from his “Rules and Things to Have a Funner Life and Make a Better Liar Out of Yourself.” For example:

RULES AND THINGS NUMBER 83

If a Adult Tells You Not to Worry, and
You Weren’t Worried Before, You Better Hurry
Up and Start ‘Cause You’re Already Running Late.

He tries to see through and outwit adults – all while still being a young boy with a child’s sensibilities. His inner monologue while trying to get from Flint to Grand Rapids is poignant and hilarious. Along the way, he is befriended by a stellar cast of supporting characters, including the beguiling Deza Malone who Curtis found so charming, he gave her a book of her own – The Mighty Miss Malone.

Bud is a fine guide to the milieu of 1930s America in Flint and Grand Rapids. Bud meets Deza when he spends the night in a Hooverville and sees up close the lives of others torn asunder by the Depression. He gets a ride with the estimable Lefty Lewis and learns about labor unions. And the lively pop music of the time comes alive when he finds his way to a touring jazz band aptly named The Dusky Devastators of the Depression. It is with the Devastators that Bud finds what he has been missing all along, true friends to support and love him, and give him his own band nickname – Sleepy LaBone.  “Shucks,” Bud says, “that was the kind of name that was enough to make you forget folks had ever called you Buddy, or even Clarence. That was the kind of name that was enough to make you practice four hours every day, just so you could live up to it!”

Bud becomes our guide to unexpected lessons about those lost and found in our hearts. While he has suffered loss, his perseverance and savvy lead him through the pain to a place where his body and soul are filled and he is welcomed home at last.

X