Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. BUD,
NOT BUDDY. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385323069.
This book, set in 1936, follows a ten-year-old African American boy in his quest to find the man he believes to
be his father.
Christopher Curtis has taken a common theme, an orphan finds a home, and set it in Depression-era Michigan. History
is not sugar-coated in this book. Throughout the story he gives glimpses into the grim
reality of this time period, such as soup kitchen lines that span several city blocks and descriptions of shanty towns called
“Hooverville” springing up all over the country. In addition to these general
characteristics of life during the Depression, Curtis also gives insight into the particular difficulties faced by
African Americans. One example is when Bud meets Lefty Lewis on the side of the road in the middle of the night, he notices
that Mr. Lewis seems to be very nervous.
Lewis explains, “… some of these Owosso folks used to have a sign hanging along here that said…’To
Our Negro Friends Who Are Passing Through, Kindly Don’t Let the Sun Set on Your Rear End in Owosso!’” (
p. 105) Another example is when Bud learns that Herman E. Calloway always has one white man in his band, so he can put the
deed to his night club in the white band member’s name, because it was against the law for African Americans to own
property in that section of town.
The story is told through the voice of Bud Caldwell, and Curtis does an excellent job of maintaining the viewpoint
a of a ten-year-old throughout the novel. The dialect and language patterns given
to Bud seem appropriate for someone in his circumstances during this period in history. Bud is spunky, engaging, and wise
beyond his years. We learn a great deal about how he views life through Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar out of Yourself. He is believable character who will provide
young readers with a vicarious experience with the past. The other characters in the book are just as memorable. Most are
presented as being very supportive of Bud in his quest to find his father. Lefty Lewis, the kind Pullman porter rescues him
from the side of the road and takes him safely to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the members of Herman E. Calloway’s band:
Steady Eddie, Mr. Jimmy, Doug the Thug, Doo-Doo Bug Cross, Dirty Deed Breed, and motherly Miss Thomas make Bud feel truly
welcome at a time when he needs it most. Calloway, himself, is gruff and not nearly as welcoming. As we approach the climax
of the story, we gain a better understanding of what lies behind his hostility and see the warmth of acceptance begin to thaw his frozen heart.
In an afterword, Curtis reveals that he utilized his family history during the writing of BUD, NOT BUDDY. He tells
of his grandfathers - one, a baseball player in the Negro Leagues and the other,
a big-band leader, who provided inspiration for characters in the story.
This is an engrossing book full of humor and sensitivity, as well as historical validity. Bud’s courage and
unfailing determination to make a connection with the only family he has is inspiring, and the grim presentation of Bud’s
daily life will help readers gain an understanding of the circumstances many
faced during this difficult period in history .