Title: Bud, Not Buddy
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publisher: Scholastic, 2002
Paperback, 245 pages
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Paperback Swap
First Line: Here we go again.
It's 1936 in Flint, Michigan, and the Depression is in full swing. People don't have the most basic of necessities, so it's not all that surprising that children keep turning up on the doorsteps of orphanages. Ten-year-old Bud (don't make the mistake of calling him Buddy!) has been in the orphanage for a while, so he's a pro. He's also tired of going to new foster homes to be used as a servant and to be treated badly.
When he's beaten up by the spoiled son of the latest couple to take him in and then locked in a shed and attacked by a nest of angry hornets, he's had enough. He manages to get out of the shed and into the house where he finds his battered and beloved cardboard suitcase-- and then he's on the road to Grand Rapids. You see, from the important things his mother kept, he's figured out whom his father is, and that man is a musician who has his own club. All Bud has to do is make it to Grand Rapids.
Bud, Not Buddy is the first novel to receive both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Newbery Medal. Although the grim conditions of the Depression and the harshness of Bud's circumstances as both an orphan and an African-American child are depicted honestly, Curtis surrounds the unpleasant facts in a spirit of hope and optimism. Bud can be in the midst of a very serious situation and still have the power to make a reader smile with his habit of referring to "human beans" or mopping a floor and pretending he's reenacting the action of "Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea." (I have to admit that, even though I have a great tolerance for gore and violence, it was nice to read something that contained neither. A discerning reader can easily recognize the ugly bits and shudder, but the focus never moves from that little boy.)
At the end of the book, Curtis admits that two of the characters were based on his own grandfathers-- and that most of what he learned about the Depression came from research and books. When he was young and the old folks started talking, he made a bee-line in the opposite direction because he didn't want to hear those "boring tall tales."
Bud, Not Buddy is a wonderful book, filled with love, laughter and truth-- and the most important truth of all may be the very last paragraph of Christopher Paul Curtis's book:
Be smarter than I was: Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.