Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Book Review – Historical Fiction

Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. BUD, NOT BUDDY. New York: Delacorte Press.
ISBN 0385323069

Ten-year-old Bud, living in Flint, Michigan during the Great Depression, has already lost his mother. He doesn’t have a lot going for him except his “Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making A Better Liar of Yourself” and his suitcase containing his only worldly possessions (which he rarely lets out of his sight.) He escapes from yet another bad foster home situation and sets out on a quest to find the person he believes to be his father—a jazz musician whose flyer Bud found among his mother’s things. He doesn’t find his father, but he finds a family just the same.

Christopher Paul Curtis works magic with this novel as he has in previous works. Not only does he tell a compelling story of the cruelties suffered by his young protagonist, he does it with such matter-of-factness interspersed with humor—like mistaking Lefty Lewis with whom he hitched a ride, for a vampire because he was transporting blood to a hospital; or being afraid as a six-years-old that because he lost a tooth that some other appendage might become detached—readers can’t help but be drawn in to this.

Although this story is set in Michigan, Curtis relates the harsh conditions suffered nationwide by everyone during 1930’s. His descriptions of the food lines and the Hooverville camps along the railways tell of additional agonies with which Bud-not-Buddy had to contend. Young readers, even those who have not suffered all that Bud did, will identify with his not being in control in a grown-up world where decisions about his life and world are made for him and are out of his control. Students may also be inspired by his determination to set out on his own to find his father.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because this is a tale of an orphan during the Great Depression that the story is a hard one to read. It is full of human emotions such as Bud’s huge disappointment when the musician on the flyer he’s sought out thinking him to be his father turns out to be a detached, older, overweight man who wants nothing to do with Bud. But Curtis moves the story along with humor and realistic dialogue and finally orchestrates a happy ending with the surprising plot twist—a bag of stones inscribed with the names of places and dates, one of Bud’s few and treasured possessions—ties his own mother with the surly musician Bud has mistaken for his father.

Book Report (January/February 2000)
This is a fine, truly enjoyable story written about the Depression era. It has a little something for everyone and would make a good classroom read-aloud. Highly Recommended

Publishers Weekly (August 9, 1999)
While the grim conditions of the times and the harshness of Bud's circumstances are authentically depicted, Curtis shines on them an aura of hope and optimism. And even when he sets up a daunting scenario, he makes readers laughƒfor example, mopping floors for the rejecting Calloway, Bud pretends the mop is "that underwater boat in the book Momma read to me, Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea." Bud's journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)

Coretta Scott King Award 01/17/00 Notable/Best Books (A.L.A.) 01/21/00
Newbery Medal/Honor 01/17/00 School Library Journal starred 09/01/99

Other award winning books by Christopher Paul Curtis:

Websites that include booktalks, author biography, study guides, etc.:



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