Top 100 Children’s Novels #60: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
When you hear that a book is about an orphan during the Great Depression, you might expect an emotional one-trick-pony – sadness to spare. Give Christopher Paul Curtis credit for bringing this era to life with vibrancy and flashes of surprising humor. Flint, Michigan is the setting here and sense of place figures big into this 2000 Newbery Medal winner. For us Michiganders, it feels like we’re sharing our piece of the map with the world. – Travis Jonker
I was a little surprised to find myself putting this one on my list. I don’t have the same level of personal affection for it that I have for the rest of my picks, but as I looked at various lists (Newbery, my own Goodreads reviews, etc.) I kept being drawn back to it, as one of the best written and memorable middle grade books in the last 15 years or so. – Mark Flowers
Bud slips down a bit from his previous position at #47 on our previous poll. That isn’t to say he has serious staying power, though. And as the first book Christopher Paul Curtis wrote for kids, few could argue with the statement that it is a doozy of a story.
The plot synopsis from the publisher reads, “It’s 1936 Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and 10-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy, 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: posters of Herman E. Calloway and his band of renown, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Bud is sure those posters will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road, nothing can stop him, not hunger, not fear, not would-be vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.”
The book won both a Newbery Award and a Coretta Scott King Award in 2000. In terms of the Newbery, it beat out Newbery Honors Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis, Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm, and 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola. About the Award, Curtis tells Leonard Marcus in the book Funny Business, “One of my sayings is ‘I get through life by having really low expectations.’ Anything good that happens is a bonus. If it’s bad, well, I wasn’t expecting anything more, anyway. The fact that I was older when I won the Newbery Medal made a real difference. It wasn’t as likely to turn my head. I have a good friend I’ve got to be careful around, because when I’m with him I laugh so hard I almost choke. One of his sayings is ‘One day chicken, next day feathers.’ This is now. Tomorrow may be something different. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Of course this year we saw The Mighty Miss Malone, a companion novel to Bud, Not Buddy. Bud does make a cameo appearance in the book, but it’s not quite what you’d expect.
The long gone but not forgotten Riverbank Review said of it, “Curtis writes with humor and sensitivity and makes readers care about the characters he creates. In the process, he offers up a significant slice of American history.”
Said Publishers Weekly, “Bud’s journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last.”
VOYA commented, “Curtis writes with a razor sharp intelligence that grabs the reader by the heart and never lets go. His utterly believable depiction of the self reliant charm and courage of Bud, not Buddy, puts this highly recommended title at the top of the list of books to be read again and again.”
And School Library Journal agreed once and for all with, “Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud.”
There are quite a few covers out there, though most of them appear to be variations on a single theme.
It’s the theater posters that I really love, though. Look at the variety!
I also liked this image created by Mary Brainard for the show. You can see another on her website.
The Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota is one of the finest children’s theatrical troupes in the nation. You can bank on it. And so it was with great pleasure that I heard that they produced their own version of Bud, Not Buddy. That got me thinking that there might be other productions out there. A quick search revealed this look at a production from the Nashville Children’s Theatre.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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