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 orphan in search of his father in Depression era America. Bud is a winning narrator as he peppers his account of his ups and downs with insights like his “Rules to Have a Funner Life and Learn How to Be a Better Liar.” He tries to see through and get the best of adults — all while still essentially being a kid. (He reminds one a lot of Huckleberry Finn.)

Curtis makes Bud a fine guide to the milieu of 1930s America around the environs of Flint and Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Bud spends the night in a Hooverville as part of his quest.) And Bud and Curtis also make fine guides to the popular music of the time — big band jazz as practiced by its African-American creators. Bud, Not Buddy thus becomes a rich tour of the tastes and sounds of this era in American history. And Bud becomes our guide to unexpected lessons about those lost and found in our hearts. When Bud finally discovers the jazz band he’s been seeking (“the Dusky Devastators of the Depression”) his body and soul are enriched and he finds a welcome home at last.