The Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award-winning classic about a boy who decides to hit the road to find his father—from Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963, a Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honoree.
It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him:
1. He has his own suitcase full of special things.
2. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.
3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!
Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road to find this mystery man, nothing can stop him—not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.
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“[A] powerfully felt novel.” —The New York Times
“Will keep readers engrossed from first page to last.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred
“Curtis writes with a razor-sharp intelligence that grabs the reader by the heart and never lets go. . . . This highly recommended title [is] at the top of the list of books to be read again and again.” —Voice of Youth Advocates, Starred
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Here we go again. We were all standing in line waiting for breakfast when one of the caseworkers came in and tap-tap-tapped down the line. Uh-oh, this meant bad news, either they’d found a foster home for somebody or somebody was about to get paddled. All the kids watched the woman as she moved along the line, her high-heeled shoes sounding like little firecrackers going off on the wooden floor.
Shoot! She stopped at me and said, “Are you Buddy Caldwell?”
I said, “It’s Bud, not Buddy, ma’am.”
She put her hand on my shoulder and took me out of line. Then she pulled Jerry, one of the littler boys, over. “Aren’t you Jerry Clark?” He nodded.
“Boys, good news! Now that the school year has ended, you both have been accepted in new temporary-care homes starting this afternoon!”
Jerry asked the same thing I was thinking. “Together?”
She said, “Why, no. Jerry, you’ll be in a family with three little girls . . .”
Jerry looked like he’d just found out they were going to dip him in a pot of boiling milk.
“. . . and Bud . . .” She looked at some papers she was holding. “Oh, yes, the Amoses, you’ll be with Mr. and Mrs. Amos and their son, who’s twelve years old, that makes him just two years older than you, doesn’t it, Bud?”
She said, “I’m sure you’ll both be very happy.”
Me and Jerry looked at each other.
The woman said, “Now, now, boys, no need to look so glum. I know you don’t understand what it means, but there’s a depression going on all over this country. People can’t find jobs and these are very, very difficult times for everybody. We’ve been lucky enough to find two wonderful families who’ve opened their doors for you. I think it’s best that we show our new foster families that we’re very . . .”
She dragged out the word very, waiting for us to finish her sentence for her.
Jerry said, “Cheerful, helpful and grateful.” I moved my lips and mumbled.
She smiled and said, “Unfortunately, you won’t have time for breakfast. I’ll have a couple of pieces of fruit put in a bag. In the meantime go to the sleep room and strip your beds and gather all of your things.”
Here we go again. I felt like I was walking in my sleep as I followed Jerry back to the room where all the boys’ beds were jim-jammed together. This was the third foster home I was going to and I’m used to packing 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 runny and my throat gets all choky and my eyes get 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.
Jerry sat on his bed and I could tell that he was losing the fight not to cry. Tears were popping out of his eyes and slipping down his cheeks.
I sat down next to him and said, “I know being in a house with three girls sounds terrible, Jerry, but it’s a lot better than being with a boy who’s a couple of years older than you. I’m the one who’s going to have problems. A older boy is going to want to fight, but those little girls are going to treat you real good. They’re going to treat you like some kind of special pet or something.”
Jerry said, “You really think so?”
I said, “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. They’ll probably make you be the baby and will hug you and do this kind of junk to you.” I tickled Jerry under his chin and said, “Ga-ga goo-goo, baby-waby.”
Jerry couldn’t help but smile. I said, “You’re going to be great.”
Jerry looked like he wasn’t so scared anymore so I went over to my bed and started getting ready.
Even though it was me who was in a lot of trouble I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Jerry. Not only because he was going to have to live around three girls, but also because being six is a real rough age to be at. Most folks think you start to be a real adult when you’re fifteen or sixteen years old, but that’s not true, it really starts when you’re around six.
It’s at six that grown folks don’t think you’re a cute little kid anymore, they talk to you and expect that you understand everything they mean. And you’d best understand too, if you aren’t looking for some real trouble, ’cause it’s around six that grown folks stop giving you little swats and taps and jump clean up to giving you slugs that’ll knock you right down and have you seeing stars in the middle of the day. The first foster home I was in taught me that real quick.
Six is a bad time too ’cause that’s when some real scary things start to happen to your body, it’s around then that your teeth start coming a-loose in your mouth.
You wake up one morning and it seems like your tongue is the first one to notice that something strange is going on, ’cause as soon as you get up there it is pushing and rubbing up against one of your front teeth and I’ll be doggoned if that tooth isn’t the littlest bit wiggly.
At first you think it’s kind of funny, but the tooth keeps getting looser and looser and one day, in the middle of pushing the tooth back and forth and squinching your eyes shut, you pull it clean out. It’s the scariest thing you can think of ’cause you lose control of your tongue at the same time and no matter how hard you try to stop it, it won’t leave the new hole in your mouth alone, it keeps digging around in the spot where that tooth used to be.
You tell some adult about what’s happening but all they do is say it’s normal. You can’t be too sure, though, ’cause it shakes you up a whole lot more than grown folks think it does when perfectly good parts of your body commence to loosening up and falling off of you.
Unless you’re as stupid as a lamppost you’ve got to wonder what’s coming off next, your arm? Your leg? Your neck? Every morning when you wake up it seems a lot of your parts aren’t stuck on as good as they used to be.
Six is real tough. That’s how old I was when I came to live here in the Home. That’s how old I was when Momma died.
I folded the blanket and sheet and set them back on the mattress. Then I reached under the bed to get my suitcase. Most of the kids in the Home keep their things in a paper or cloth sack, but not me. I have my own suitcase.
I set it on the mattress and untied the twine that held it together. I did what I do every night before I go to sleep, I checked to make sure everything was there. The way there’re more and more kids coming into the Home every day, I had to make sure no one had run off with any of my things.
First I pulled my blanket out and saw that everything was where it was supposed to be. At the bottom of my suitcase were the flyers. I took the blue flyer out and looked at it again.
The paper was starting to wear out from me looking at it so much but I liked checking to see if there was anything I hadn’t noticed before. It was like something was telling me there was a message for me on this flyer but I didn’t have the decoder ring to read what it was.
Across the top of the flyer writ in big black letters were the words limited engagement, then in little letters it said, “Direct from an S.R.O. engagement in New York City.” Underneath that in big letters again it said, “herman e. calloway and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!”
Those six exclamation points made it seem like this was the most important news anyone could think of, seems like you’d have to be really great to deserve all of those exclamation points all stacked up in a row like that.
Next the paper said, “Masters of the New Jazz,” then in the middle of the flyer was a blurry picture of the man I have a real good suspicion about. I’ve never met him, but I have a pretty good feeling that this guy must be my father.
In the picture he’s standing next to a giant fiddle that’s taller than him. It looks like it’s real heavy ’cause he’s leaning up against it trying to hold it up. He looks like he’s been doing this for a long time and he must be tired ’cause he has a droopy, dreamy look on his face. There are two men beside him, one playing drums and the other one blowing a horn.
It wasn’t hard to see what the guy who must be my father was like just by looking at his picture. You could tell he was a real quiet, real friendly and smart man, he had one of those kind of faces. Underneath the picture someone had writ with a black fountain pen, “One Night Only in Flint, Michigan, at the Luxurious Fifty Grand on Saturday June 16, 1932. 9 Until ?”
I remember Momma bringing this flyer with her when she came from working one day, I remember because she got very upset when she put it on the supper table and kept looking at it and picking it up and putting it back and moving it around. I was only six then and couldn’t understand why this one got her so upset, she kept four others that were a lot like it in her dressing table, but this one really got her jumpy. The only difference I could see between the blue one and the others was that the others didn’t say anything about Flint on them.
I remember this blue one too ’cause it wasn’t too long after she brought it home that I knocked on Momma’s bedroom door, then found her.
I put the blue flyer back in the suitcase with the four older ones and put everything back in its place.
I went over to the big chest of drawers and took my other set of clothes out and put them in the suitcase too. I tied the twine back around my bag, then went and sat on Jerry’s bed with him. Jerry must’ve been thinking just as hard as I was ’cause neither one of us said nothing, we just sat close enough so that our shoulders were touching.
Here we go again.
Reading Group Guide
ABOUT THIS BOOK
During the Great Depression, a 10-year-old homeless boy sets out in search of a man he believes to be his father.
Bud Caldwell's mother died when he was six years old, leaving him with nothing but a cardboard suitcase filled with memories and a possible hint of who his father may be. Now, ten years old and on the run, Bud lives among the homeless in Flint, Michigan, until he decides to walk to Grand Rapids in search of his father. Helped by a few kind people along the way, Bud eventually locates Herman E. Calloway, a famous musician who denies Bud's claim that he is his father. Finally, the contents of Bud's suitcase provide the clues necessary to prove that Calloway is indeed related to Bud, but not in the way that Bud expects.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Born in Flint, Michigan, Christopher Paul Curtis spent his first 13 years after high school on the assembly line of Flint's historic Fisher Body Plant #1. His job entailed hanging doors, and it left him with an aversion to getting into and out of large automobiles-particularly big Buicks.
Curtis's writing-and his dedication to it-has been greatly influenced by his family members. With grandfathers like Earl "Lefty" Lewis, a Negro Baseball League pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of "Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression," it is easy to see why Christopher Paul Curtis was destined to become an entertainer.
In the Classroom
Bud, Not Buddy, set during the Great Depression, offers students the opportunity to think about the hardships that the American people experienced during this time in history. Through the homeless main character, students are asked to explore the themes of family, survival, and hope. They are also challenged to think about how racism further threatened the lives of African Americans during this period. Though the living conditions in the novel seem bleak, the main character never loses his sense of humor and offers young readers a survival story with a happy ending. The novel is an ideal choice for read-aloud or a class novel study. In addition, this guide offers activities for using the novel to connect language arts, social studies, science, art, and music.
Ask students to research the causes of the Great Depression. How did it affect families of all socioeconomic levels? Tell them that Bud, the main character in the novel, is homeless and goes to a mission for a hot meal. Find out other types of organizations that helped people during the Great Depression. Then have students find out what organizations in their city or town provide food and shelter for the homeless today.
Family and Relationships
Ask the class to discuss Bud's relationship with his mother. What are some of his special memories of her? Why did his mother never tell him about his grandfather? Why do you think Bud's mother left home? Changed her last name? If Bud's mother was so unhappy, why did she keep the flyers about her dad's band?
Why is Bud so convinced that Herman Calloway is his father? Discuss whether Bud is disappointed to learn that Calloway is not his father but his grandfather. What type of relationship do you think Bud will have with his grandfather? How is Calloway's Band like a family? What is Miss Thomas's role in Bud's new family?
Bud has been without a family since age six. What type of survival skills does Bud learn at the Home? Make a list of "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself." How does Bud use these rules to survive difficult situations? Have the class discuss whether Bud will continue using these rules now that he has found a family.
Ask the class to discuss how the flyers in Bud's suitcase give him hope. Bud's mother once told him, "When one door closes, don't worry, because another door opens." (p. 43) How does this statement give Bud the hope he needs to continue his search for his father? Discuss the moments in the story when a door closes for Bud. At what point does the door open? Cite evidence in the novel that Herman Calloway had hope that his daughter might return.
Engage the class in a discussion about the different types of racism. Bud encounters racism throughout his journey. Ask students to explain Mrs. Amos's statement: "I do not have time to put up with the foolishness of those members of our race who do not want to be uplifted." (p. 15) How does this statement indicate that Mrs. Amos feels superior to Bud and other members of her race? Why does she think that Bud does not want to be uplifted?
Bud meets many homeless people at Hooverville. What evidence is there that racism prevails among them? How does racism affect Herman E. Calloway's band? Eddie tells Bud, "Mr. C. has always got a white fella in the band, for practical reasons." (p. 205) Discuss what the "practical reasons" might be. How does this reflect the times? Would Mr. Calloway's reasons be valid today?
Bud has special memories of his mother's reading to him. He remembers the little lessons that he learned from the fables that she read. Have students select one of "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself" and write a fable, using the rule as the lesson learned.
Explain to students that a euphemism is a word used to soften the meaning of a word that may suggest something unpleasant. For example, Bud says, "I don't know why grown folks can't say someone is dead, they think it's a lot easier to say gone." (p.178) Ask students to brainstorm other euphemisms for dead.
Ask students to explain the metaphor, "The idea that had started as a teeny-weeny seed in a suitcase was now a mighty maple." (p.146) What is the "seed"? The "mighty maple"? Ask students to find other examples of figurative language in the novel.
John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and J. Edgar Hoover are among the notorious figures mentioned in the book. Send students to the library media center to research these people and to find out when the FBI was formed. What is its primary purpose? Who is the head of the FBI today? What names are currently on the FBI's most wanted list?
Policemen inspect Lefty Lewis's car because they are searching for labor organizers who are sneaking to Grand Rapids from Detroit. Ask students to find out about the history of labor unions and the existence of unions today. Then have the class debate the pros and cons of labor unions.
Lefty Lewis sends Herman Calloway a telegram telling him about Bud. Have students construct an illustrated timeline that shows the development of communication from the invention of the telegraph to today's new technologies. A good choice to introduce students to the earlier time of the pony express is the picture book The Sweetwater Run by Andrew Glass.
It is obvious at the end of the novel that Bud is being groomed as a band member. Design a flyer for Bud's opening night with Calloway's Band. Encourage students to give the band a new name in honor of Bud.
Entertainment played a major role during the Great Depression. One of Bud's flyers describes Calloway's Band as "Masters of the New Jazz." Ask students to find out who the major jazz artists were during the Great Depression. Why was jazz so important during this time period? Note that the author's grandfather was also a big band leader.
Teaching ideas prepared by Pat Scales, director of library services, the South Carolina Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina.
Vocabulary/Use of Language
Ask students to find unfamiliar words and try to define them from the context of the story. Such words may include: urchins (p.12), ingratitude (p.14), vermin (p.15), matrimonial (p. 56), devoured (p. 91), ventriloquists (p.101), sully (p.141), embouchure (p.194), and prodigy (p.196).
Winner of the 2000 John Newbery Medal
Winner of the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award
"Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud."
Starred, School Library Journal
"Bud's journey...will keep readers engrossed from first page to last." Starred, Publishers Weekly
"[T]he rich blend of tall tale, slapstick, sorrow, and sweetness has the wry, teasing warmth of family folklore." Booklist
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