Bud, Not Buddy: A Story of Hope, Courage, and Survival


You Have to Give Adults Something That
They Think They Can Use to Hurt You by Taking It
Away, That Way They Might Not Take Something
Away That You Really Do Want, Unless
They’re Crazy or Real Stupid They Won’t Take
Everything Because if They Did They Wouldn’t
Have Anything to Hold Over
Your Head to Hurt You Later.

Such bitter truth was quoted from Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. Christopher Paul Curtis weaves a bittersweet tale about a boy who ran away from Home in search of his father.


I’ve had this book for two years and it is only now that I managed to finish it from cover to cover. I became acquainted with the work of Christopher Paul Curtis when I read The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 a few years ago. It wasn’t just his writing that made me pay full price for Bud, Not Buddy. It was also because of the funny description written on the back of the book.

Finding That Inner Courage 

There comes a time when you’re losing a fight that it just doesn’t make sense to keep on fighting. It’s not that you’re being a quitter, it’s just that you’ve got the sense to know when enough is enough. – p. 9

When Bud Caldwell lost his momma at a young age of six, he ended up in an orphanage. He eventually found himself in the home of the Amoses, whose twelve-year-old son gave him nothing but trouble. And so Bud found himself on the run, away from misfortune and toward a brighter future.

The rest of the story focuses on Bud’s experiences as he traveled from Flint, Michigan to the Grand Rapids in search of a man he suspected was his father. Bud Caldwell is a character that is easy to love, at least that was how I found him to be. Partly naïve, Bud’s words and actions were reflective of his raw and honest persona. When he ran away from the Amoses, there was never any assurance that he would make it out alive. He feared the darkness, yet braved the unknown and took it upon himself to leave everything behind to start a new life. In the words of Frodo Baggins, it was the farthest away from home he had ever been. Bud Caldwell was only ten.

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite parts in the book:

And she’d say every single time, “And do you know what a bud is?”

I always answered, “Yes, Momma,” but it was like she didn’t hear me, she’d tell me anyway.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.” – pp. 41-42

Yearning to Belong

How sad do you think an orphan’s life is? To wake up one day and find yourself surrounded by people who are not even related to you. To not have a family to call your own, even though they say that family is not just being about blood. Bud Caldwell must have been a very lonely young boy. He shared memories with his mother before he ended up in an orphanage.

Bud, Not Buddy is part “search for identity” and part “quest for kinship.” But more than these two is the underlying sense of belongingness that Bud was trying to look for. Bud never liked the Home and he knew he didn’t belong there. Deep inside, filled with his momma’s words of wisdom, he believed that he was part of the greater scheme of things. There was more to life than Flint, Michigan. He hoped to find it in the company of the man he believed to be his father.

Music and The Great Depression

This is the real Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Herman Curtis (far left) is Christopher Paul Curtis' paternal grandfather.
This is the real Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Herman Curtis (far left) is Christopher Paul Curtis’ paternal grandfather. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Jazz performance for Bud, Not Buddy in Minneapolis. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Jazz performance for Bud, Not Buddy in Minneapolis. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

All of the instruments blended up together and, just like that smell in the library, you couldn’t tell which one was your favorite. First you’d say it was Mr. Jimmy on the trumpet , then Doo Doo Bug’s trombone would make you think it was the best, then Dirty Deed would make the piano sound like water hitting big rocks and you’d know there wasn’t anything that sounded that good until Steady Eddie would make the saxophone sing and talk and dance around everyone else and you’d swear that was the only sound you’d ever want to hear again.– pp. 201-202

Like in The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, Christopher Paul Curtis evenly paints a portrait of what society was like during the Great Depression, from the moment Bud leaves the Home until the time he arrived in the Grand Rapids. Bud, Not Buddy is another story that proves the healing powers of music. Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression (based on the actual band in which Christopher Paul Curtis’ grandfather, Herman E. Curtis, was a leader) served as a beacon of hope to the ailing souls in those dark times.

Fats is the Assistant Manager for Circulation Services at the Wayne County Public Library in Wooster, Ohio. She considers herself a reader of all sorts, although she needs to work on her non-fiction reading. Fats likes a good mystery but is not too fond of thrillers. She takes book hoarding seriously and enjoys collecting bookmarks and tote bags. When she is not reading, Fats likes to shop pet apparel for her cat Penny (who absolutely loathes it).

4 comments on “Bud, Not Buddy: A Story of Hope, Courage, and Survival

  1. I adored this book. It’s easily on my best 2012 reads list. Despite the story being set in the Great Depression, a very bleak time, after I read the whole story, I did not feel the heaviness of poverty and racism of that time, but took away so much positivity because of Bud’s outlook in life and his bravery. 🙂


  2. I LOVE THIS BOOK! 😀 Did you read The Mighty Miss Malone? It is based on Deza Malone from Bud not Buddy. It was really good too!


  3. Pingback: Monday Reading: An Oliver Jeffers Special for New Year’s Eve – A Star, A Moose, A Penguin, and Water all Around «

  4. Bud Not Buddy is a wonderful book


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