Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis is one of those novels lucky enough to be adorned with both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King medallion.
This book was published in 1999, and tells the story of a ten-year-old African American boy embarking on a journey to find his father. After running away from yet another bad foster care situation, Bud decides to follow his instincts to search for his father based solely on a few newspaper clippings left behind by his deceased mother.
The story is set in Michigan during the 1930s Great Depression era, and Curtis masterfully describes how difficult such a time was for the black community. Not only does Bud have to deal with unfair stereotypes and blatant racism, but he also has to navigate life as a young boy, orphan, and runaway throughout the peak of the Great Depression.
Recommended Age Group?
The publisher’s recommended age group is 9-12. I would increase the age range to 10-13.
Bud’s life is harsh. He has to deal with physical and emotional abuse, extreme
hunger, and the pain of losing his mother, the only family he knows. Some of this abuse is dealt with in detail. While this can be difficult to read, it truly helps the reader to understand the difficult journey that Bud has to go through in order to find his father.
Some other major themes include love, racism, finding belonging and family, and friendship. At one point in the novel Bud finds a girl his age and they share a little kiss, his first kiss. This moment is not described in great detail, and no other crushes or dating appear in Bud’s story.
Music is a large part of this story as well, specifically jazz. Even if your students aren’t a fan of jazz, they’ll still appreciate how Bud’s story includes this historically interesting genre of music.
This novel is classroom approved, but best suited for grades 5 and above.
Bud, Not Buddy provides the perfect opportunity for discussion around history, the Great Depression, and racism/stereotypes against the black community. Your students will be shocked at what Bud has to go through in order to find his father, and some might relate to his desire to find belonging.
I really enjoyed the addition of an afterword from the author. While the story and characters are fictional, some of them are based on real people and situations. Curtis describes which characters are based on real people and how they are connected to him. He ends this afterword with giving the best advice to middle-graders: “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” (Curtis, 243).