Bud, Not Buddy: History and a Fairytale

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Dell Yearling, 1999.

Bud_not_buddy.jpg Bud, Not Buddy is the story of the young orphan Bud, (not Buddy), as he travels across the state of Michigan in search of his real father. He does not know his father's name and only has a few clues, that he carries around in his beloved suitcase, given to him by his mother left him before she passed. Bud is doing this searching at an especially hard time, in 1936, right in the middle of the Great Depression. His journey takes him through many issues and places that were fairly common during this era. He stumbles upon the Flint version of a Hooverville, or shanty town, that had been set up due the economic hardships of the depression. He also meets a Union organizer who is deemed dangerous by the Flint police department, who turns out to be not as dangerous as Bud originally thinks. And he does all this while he's "out on the lam" from the orphanage.

Despite all the obstacles that are placed in Bud's way, he retains a very positive attitude and is very polite to everyone he encounters. Christopher Curtis has done a very good job of creating a character that is able to deal with serious issues lightheartedly. Bud seems to have an optimism that cannot be dimmed by anything. This is a very effective tactic seeing as his audience will more than likely be children. This being said the writing is at times simplistic, one has to remember the audience, and at other times extremely disciptive and imaginative. Through Bud, Curtis describes certain situations and events with the creativity that can only be from a child's point of view. The story, although intended for younger readers, leaves readers with a sense of contentment as to the summation of the plot and with a feeling of hope as to the future of Bud, not Buddy.

Recommendations for Teachers
Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy is a highly acclaimed children’s novel, and deservedly so, for it is a touching story about adventure and the search for one’s place in life. Bud, Not Buddy’s setting, in Michigan during the Great Depression (1936 to be exact), makes this novel particularly enticing for Michigan teachers and students alike. I believe Curtis has presented us with something that is definitely useful in the classroom, though it would be best in a classroom of 4th or 5th grade students. There is no debate here, as Bud, Not Buddy was plainly written as a children’s book. This is suggested by the content and reading level. The narration style and language is such that students can easily engage with Bud and the numerous other characters they will meet throughout the novel. I believe students will truly enjoy reading this book while gaining something valuable along the way.

Bud, Not Buddy gives young readers an introduction to many important matters: racism, individualism, death, loneliness, friendship and love. Not only this, but readers are exposed to multiple historical contexts: Hoovervilles of the Great Depression , unionization of the automobile industry, poverty in bigger cities and the plight of orphans and struggling families. These topics may seem rather heavy for 4th graders, but readers are saved by Bud’s beautifully innocent perspective and the adult character’s straightforward descriptions of events. Another selling point for Bud, Not Buddy, at least in the Michigan classrooms, is that the characters are all from and live in Michigan (Flint and Grand Rapids to be specific). Because of this, Bud, Not Buddy will hit close to home for many children living throughout the state, particularly those living in the aforementioned areas. How exciting to have a text that addresses the life of Michiganders during the Great Depression!

Finally, in the afterword, Curtis talks about his relationship with his grandparents and how he feels sadness over the fact that he would often fail to pay attention when they told him stories about their experiences during the Great Depression. In the last lines he encourages his readers to go home and talk to their own grandparents about the past. Why not learn about history from those who were there? What great advice for students and teachers alike. Have your students read Bud, Not Buddy and be sure not to forget about the afterword!

About Christopher Paul Curtis
cpc_photo2.jpgChristopher Paul Curtis is a native Michigan children’s author, born in Flint in 1953. He went through school there where he continued his work for 13 years in an automobile factory, installing doors on Buicks. During this time, he attended night classes at the Flint division of the University of Michigan. Taking a year off from work, Curtis wrote his first novel The Watson Twins Go to Birmingham: 1963 (1995), which received the Newbery Honor award along with the Coretta Scott King Award. Curtis’s writings are highly influenced by his family. Particularly his two grandfathers: Earl “Lefty” Lewis (a minor league baseball pitcher) and Herman E. Curtis (a Grand Rapids jazz band leader), both of whom make an appearance in another of Curtis’s highly acclaimed novels: Bud, Not Buddy (2000) which also received the Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards. Christopher Paul Curtis currently lives in Windsor, Ontario with his wife Kay and children Cydney and Steven. More novels by Curtis include: Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission (2005), Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money (2005), Bucking the Sarge (2004), and his latest Elijah of Buxton (2008).

"Christopher Paul Curtis." Retrieved on November 17, 2008 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Paul_Curtis.


Scholastic Booktalk for Elijah of Buxton, another book by Christopher Paul Curtis

Video of a song written by students studying Bud, Not Buddy

Additional Resources:

--Laura Baltazar, Johnathan Giarmo, Alex Karpicke

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