Study Guide

Bud, Not Buddy

By Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy Introduction

Ever wonder what life would be like on your own? You'd get to eat whatever you want, go to sleep whenever you want, do whatever you want, right? In Bud, Not Buddy, ten-year-old Bud Caldwell is on his own, but life alone isn't as fun as it seems: You have to deal with hornets, vampires, starvation, and muskrat stew. Sometimes you have to sleep under trees. You have to walk miles and miles, you can't trust anyone, and there's no one around to give you a hug.

Yeah, being on your own during the Great Depression sounds like one of worst things that could happen to a kid. Especially if you are a young African-American boy in a very racist place.

Picture this: it's 1936, it's cold and rainy, and life in Flint, Michigan is hard for most people. If a place like the mission serves free food, you can bet there will be a line a mile long for it, and no one takes pity on one starving kid because most kids are starving at this time.

Enter Bud. Bud's mother died when he was just six years old. He's been in orphanages and in and out of foster homes. He has never met his father, and his only clue about who his father might be is a picture he took from a stack of music flyers his mother kept around the house. Bud runs away in search of this man without knowing for sure whether he is his father or not.

Along the way, Bud has his first kiss, meets some of the nicest (and meanest) people you could ever know, gets his first pair of long pants, and for the first time, eats at a restaurant.

Bud is a witty, wise kid and he keeps track of every life lesson he learns in his mind. He calls these lessons Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. Sounds like a fun read, right? Bud is funny and observant, and often makes metaphors out of situations so he can understand them better.

Even though it's pretty common for authors to use things from their own lives in books they write, Christopher Paul Curtis actually used a lot. Check it out: he grew up in Flint after the Great Depression and worked in the automobile factories. The character Herman Calloway is based on his own grandpa Herman Curtis, who was a professional jazz musician and his other grandpa Lefty Lewis, who played baseball.

Many of Curtis' books include the themes of African-American experience, racism, family, love, and hope. Bud, Not Buddy even won some major book awards, like the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. Those are major in the Young Adult Literature world, so you can expect good things from this author.

Oh, and remember that first kiss we told you about? Well, Curtis also wrote a sequel to Bud, Not Buddy called The Mighty Miss Malone, which is about that sweet and smart little girl, Deza, who Bud meets in the shanty town Hooverville, where he sneaks his first ever kiss. So if you love this story and want to read more, you're totally in luck.

What is Bud, Not Buddy About and Why Should I Care?

Family: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

Actually, it turns out you can live without 'em, but it's rough. Since Bud likes to keep a list of things he learns about living, we wanted to make a list, too. Family is a big deal in Bud, Not Buddy, so let's see what Bud learns about it:

  1. Your family isn't just your mom or dad or siblings. Some of the most important family members in life are not your relatives. Sometimes, our closest friends become our family.
  2. Bud, Not Buddy shows us how cool families really are, despite how uncool they can look sometimes. No matter what is going on outside of a home, families comfort and support each other when it matters most.
  3. We all need someone's shoulder to cry on sometimes. Family is that shoulder—a place you can go when you're scared, lonely, happy, nervous or mad.
  4. You never know how long the people you love will be with you, so try your best to appreciate them now and pay attention to what they tell you. You'll want to remember it later.
  5. Nobody wants to feel controlled, especially teenagers. That's why Bud's mother ran away from her dad, Herman Calloway, and that's also why Bud ran away from the Home.
  6. Sometimes relying on the kindness of strangers—and being cautious of them, too—can get you where you want to go.

Bud, Not Buddy Resources

Websites

Christopher Paul Curtis's Website
This site talks about Curtis' books and tells a little more about the author.

Michigan Depression Information
Extra information about the effects of the Depression on Michigan and the organization of labor unions. If the history stuff in the book gets confusing, this can help you figure out what's going on.

The 1930s
Want to know what life was like in the 1930s? Check out this site.

Articles and Interviews

New York Public Library Interview
Get to know Christopher Paul Curtis in this cool interview.

Short Video Interview
Curtis talks about his life influences on his writing. There's lots of cool information for interested readers here.

Interview for Book Browse
Another fun interview with Curtis.

Audio

Audio Excerpt of Bud, Not Buddy
This is a short piece of the book being read.

Images

Nobody But Curtis
An article with a great photo of Christopher Paul Curtis.

Great Depression Food Line
Remember that scene where Bud stands in line for food at the mission, and there's a billboard advertising how great life is for Americans during the Great Depression? See if this famous photograph looks familiar.