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Bud, Not Buddy: an examination  

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Bud, Not Buddy



Newbery Award Winner 2000

Coretta Scott King Award 2000

Winner 1999 -  ALA Best Books for Young Adults

Winner 1999 - Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year

Winner 1999 - School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

Winner 2000 - ALA Best Books for Young Adults

Winner 2000 - ALA Coretta Scott King Award

Winner 2000 - ALA Notable Children's Books

Winner 2000 - IRA Children's Book Award for Older Readers




  • The Eternal Optimist

            Bud is truly the eternal optimist.  He has faced his fair share of trouble-- the death of his mother at age 6, various foster families and the Home, living in poverty during the Great Depression-- yet, Bud always sees the world with rose-colored glasses. He has developed rules to guide him in this world: "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself."  These rules such as number 28: "when you make up your mind to do something, hurry up and do it, if you wait you might talk yourself out of what you wanted in the first place" help him get what needs to be done, done.  When Jerry, a boy from the Home, is going to be placed with a family of girls, Bud is the first to cheer him up: "I'd trade you in a minute.  The worst thing that's going to happen to you is that they're going to make you play house a lot...and will hug you and do this kind of junk to you," (Curtis, 4).  Bud comforts Jerry when he needs it even if Bud, himself, is scared about his own situation with an older boy.  He know his rules will help him get through life.  When Bud decides to embark on his 120-mile journey to Grand Rapids by foot he has no worries: "I went back under the Chirstmas tree and got my suitcase.  By this time tomorrow I'd be looking at the face of the man who had to be my father.  I started eating the cheese sandwich the librarian gave me.  And then I headed out for Grand Rapids, (91).  Bud is not worried; he is full of confidence and optimism that life is going to be just fine. His mother taught him that bad opportunities only mean better ones are on their way: "' matter how bad things look to you, no matter how dark the night, when one door closes, don't worry, because another door opens,'" (p. 42-43).  Bud does not get discouraged by misfortune; he knows something better is on its way.  His mother gave him that optimism to guide him.

  • Search for Family

            This novel centers around Bud's search for his father.  Bud has no family when we meet him with his mother's passing.  Yet, Bud believes in family.  His mother's love stays with him and allows him to believe that family is good and worth any journey.  When Bud talks to Deza Malone in Hooverville, he says, "'She would tell me every night before I went to sleep that no matter what happened I could sleep knowing that there had never been a little boy, anywhere, anytime, who was loved more than she loved me.  She told me that as long as I remembered that I'd be Ok,'" (p.73). It is this and other loving memories of his mother that allows him to believe in family and be optimistic.  Bud is going to be alright because his mother loved him.  Deza sees this strength in Bud.  Deza has her mother and father with her unlike Bud.  She says, "My momma says these poor kids on the road all alone are like dust in the wind.  But I guess you're different, aren't you, Bud?  I guess you sort of carry your family around inside of you, huh?" (Curtis, p. 73).  Bud's family and his belief in family is strong.  It stays with him and eventually motivates him to search for his father: "Maybe someone was trying to tell me something, what with me missing the train and the blue flyer floating back to me, maybe Deza Malone was right...Maybe it came back to me beacuse this Herman E. Calloway really was my father," (Curtis, p. 86).  Missing the train West and having the flyer blow back to him reminded Bud that Michigan was where his possible family was.  This sign from above was telling him that he needed to try to find his family and directs the narrative to the search for his father, and eventually all the members of the band who would become his family.  Bud understands himself as his mother intended:  "'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,'" (Curtis, p. 42).  By the end, Bud has found his warmth, his grandfather and his band family.  

  • Coming of Age

            Ultimately, Bud, Not Buddy is a coming of age story.  Bud is 10-years-old and he's had to grow up fast.  He acts like an older brother to Jerry, one of the younger boys in the Home who cries when he finds out about his new foster home.  But Bud is more jaded now:  "This was the third foster home I was going to and I'm used to pakcing up and leaving, but it still surprises me that there are always a few seconds, right after they tell you you've got to go, when my nose gets all sting-y.  But the tears coming out doesn't happen to me anymore, I don't know when it first happened, but it seems like my eyes don't cry no more, " (Curtis, p. 3).  Bud is growing up and he's growing up fast.  Four years without his mother has made him mature quickly.  His Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself are guidelines that help him determine what kind of life he is going to have and they are lessons that he has learned over time.  They prepare him for the world he lives in.  For example when he looks for his librarian friend Miss Hill and the woman says, "Haven't you heard," Bud knows to "Get Ready, 'Cause What's About to Come Out of Their Mouth is Gonna Drop You Headfirst into a Boiling Tragedy," (Curtis, p. 56).  While the news is only that Miss Hill has gotten married, Bud is relieved for he has prepared himself for the worst.  Bud experiences his first kiss with Deza Malone at the cardboard encampment nervous that his friend Bugs and the other kids would see him, but excited at the thought of kissing Deza.  Bud is navigating this in-between world of being a child and an adult.  His transitory life has caused him to be wary of adults and whom to trust.  When he meets Lefty Lewis on the road to Grand Rapids, he says, "I was carefuller talking to him this time so he couldn't track where I was," (p. 101).  Bud is rightfully cautious when meeting adults yet he still has that joy of a child and is excited at the thought of soda pop and eating in a restaurant for the first time.  He is forced to move into the adult world quickly but he is learning as he goes and still feels like a child sometimes.


Summary of Events

We meet Bud while he is at the Home, a group home for children.  He is about to be placed with another foster family, the Amoses, who have a 12-year-old son named Todd.  Bud's mother died four year ago when he was six.  His memories of her lie in his suitcase which he never lets out of his sight.  It carries flyers advertising his father, Herman E. Calloway who is a jazz musician in a group called the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!  

While at the Amos's house, Bud is bullied by the older Todd who shoves a pencil all the way up his nose.  While trying to defend himself, Mrs. Amos stumbles upon the two and punishes Bud by forcing him to spend the night in a scary outdoor shed before sending him back to the Home.  Bud escapes that night but not before taking revenge on Todd Amos.

He eventually decides to run away with Bugs, another boy from the Home.  Before catching the train out west, they spend the night in Hooverville, a makeshift homeless encampment.  Bud meets Deza Malone there with whom he shares his first kiss while washing the dishes.  Bud misses the train as the cops crackdown on Hooverille.

Bud decides that instead of going west, he wants to find his father in Grand Rapids.  He wants to be with his family.  With the help of the library, he learns that Grand Rapids is 120 miles away and begins his long walk there.

He is picked up by Lefty Lewis, a Pullman porter and union man, who is worried about Bud's safety, as an African American young boy journeying alone.  Lewis drives Bud to Grand Rapids.

Bud is reunited with his father Herman E. Calloway and his band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!  The band takes him in but Calloway denies that Bud is his son and treats him coldly.  After a few road trips with the band, Bud notices his father's love for rocks and Bud shows Herman his own rock collection left by his mother.  The great mystery is solved. Calloway is Bud's grandfather, his mother's father.  His mother ran away from home 11 years ago and Herman hadn't heard from her since.  While Herman mourns his daughter's death, Bud becomes even more of a family member to the band who give him his own saxophone.  For the first time since his mother's death, Bud finally belongs.


Major Characters

image credit: Amazon

Bud Caldwell- 10 years old, our protagonist, who has been moving between foster homes and his group home for the past four years when his mother died suddenly.  He carries his suitcase filled with his treasures left by his mother.

image credit: historicalstockphotos

The Amos Family- This is the fourth foster family Bud has been sent to live with in the last four years.  It is an African American family, Mr. and Mrs Amos, and their 12-year-old son, Todd.  When we meet the Amos family, Todd has shoved a pencil up Bud's nose.  Bud is forced to fight Todd.  When Mrs. Amos discovers the boys, Todd plays the victim and Mrs. Amos, who impresses Bud with her educated speech, accuses Bud of attacking her son.  Mrs. and Mr. Amos send Bud to a scary shed to spend the night and Bud eventually escapes but not before getting Todd back.

image credit: School Library Journal

Deza Malone- 10 years old, Bud meets Deza in Hooverville. They wash dishes together, talk about family and she gives Bud his first kiss.  She is also the protagonist of a subsequent Curtis book, The Mighty Miss Malone.

image credit: Museum of the American Railroad

Earl "Lefty" Lewis- picks Bud up while Bud is walking from Flint to Grand Rapids.  Lewis is worried for Bud, a young African American boy, walking alone and warns him about the KKK.  Lewis brings him to Herman E. Calloway.  Lewis works for Pullman railroad and he is a union organizer.  Lefty Lewis is based off of Curtis's maternal grandfather including his namesake.

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Herman E. Calloway- Bud's actual grandfather although Bud believes Calloway is his father because his mother had several flyers of his band.  Calloway and his band were a successful musical group during the Depression which was not common.  Calloway denies Bud is his son upon meeting him but soon learns that Bud carries rocks that Bud's mother, Herman's daughter had saved from her father's performances on road trips.  Calloway's band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!, are immediately kind to Bud before Herman is and welcome Bud like family.  Calloway is based off of Curtis's paternal grandfather, Herman E. Curtis.



Setting: Time and Place

Bud, Not Buddy takes place in Flint, Michigan in 1936, during the Great Depression.  According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, Michigan fared worse than the rest of the country during the Depression with a higher unemployment rate.  It took a while for social services to starting meeting the needs of the poor during this time, but right around 1935, a stronger social services program was in place through local governments as we see Bud going to the mission for food.  Also in 1936, the United Auto Workers organized a strike that lasted for 44 days and spread to auto workers in cities nationwide.  Curtis gives us some of this history when the police pull over Mr. Lewis and Bud en route to Flint.  The cop says, "'We can't be too careful...we're having a lot of trouble in the factories here...There've been reports that some more of those stinking labor organizers might be sneaking up here from Detroit,'" (Curtis, p. 135).  In addition to the picture we get of the shantytowns like Hooverville, we also get a picture of resistance through folks trying to organize for better lives.

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