Bud Not Buddy-Christopher Paul Curtis| Summary, Themes & Characters

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About the Novel-Bud Not Buddy

Novel TitleBud, Not Buddy
AuthorChristopher Paul Curtis
Publication Year1999
GenreHistorical Fiction, Children’s Literature
Pages245 pages
SettingFlint, Michigan during the Great Depression
ThemesIdentity, Family, Resilience, Belonging
Target AudienceChildren and Young Adults (ages 9-12)
ProtagonistBud Caldwell
Awards– Newbery Medal (2000)
– Coretta Scott King Award (2000)
– ALA Notable Children’s Book (2000)

Bud Not Buddy Main Characters

  1. Bud Caldwell:10-year-old African American orphan.
  2. Herman E. Calloway: famous jazz musician.
  3. Lefty Lewis: band member and friend of Herman E. Calloway.
  4. Deza Malone: fellow orphan and friend.

Bud Not Buddy Themes

  1. Identity: The novel explores Bud’s search for his true identity and his journey to understand who he is and where he belongs.
  2. Family : Bud’s quest to find his father highlights the importance of family bonds and the lengths one will go to connect with their loved ones.
  3. Resilience: Bud faces numerous challenges during the Great Depression and his ability to persevere and adapt demonstrates the power of resilience in overcoming adversity.
  4. Belonging: Bud’s longing for a sense of belonging drives his actions and decisions, as he seeks to find his place in the world and establish connections with others.

Bud Not Buddy Full novel summary

Bud, Not Buddy is the narrative of a young Black boy’s search for his absent father. Bud travels from a harsh existence in Flint to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to find his father, using clues from the few items he carries that belong to his mother. 

Bud initially appears to us as a ten-year-old living in an orphanage in Flint, Michigan, in the 1930s. When Bud found his mother dead on her bedroom floor, he was six years old, and they transferred him to the home.

Here we go again, he says at the start of his narrative. On this day, Bud’s caseworker contacts him by name and informs him that they have allocated him to a new foster family, his third foster home since coming to the house.

Bud takes his prized bag from under his bed as he leaves the home. He examines the well-worn blue flier inside, with its indistinct image of the man he believes to be his father: Herman E. Calloway. Bud tucks the flier back into the suitcase’s bottom. Jerry, a six-year-old kid transferred to a different foster family, shares his room with Bud. While they wait, he consoles a sobbing Jerry, who has never been to a foster home. 

The next thing we know, Bud is being tormented by Todd Amos, the 12-year-old son of Bud’s newest foster parents, Mr and Mrs Amos. Todd, who began the fight, tells his mother that Bud is to blame. Mrs Amos confines Bud to his room. Mr Amos enters with a black strap, but when Bud apologizes profusely to escape a strapping, Mr Amos informs Bud that he will be spending the night in a closed shed.

Bud escapes via a window after a terrifying few hours of sharing the shed with a nest of aggressive hornets. Bud slips via the back entrance of the Amoses, plotting his vengeance. Bud sneaks upstairs after concealing the Amoses’ shotgun so they can’t use it against him. He throws warm water over Todd, who promptly wets his trousers. Bud then gets his bag and goes “on the lam.”

Bud comes to the library, intending to spend the night there, but when the basement windows are locked, he falls asleep under the big Christmas-like trees that line the library wall. But first, Bud ensures that he securely packs his possessions in his suitcase.

Bud is too late in the morning to join the mission food line, but a family known as the Clarence family falsely claims to be his family to obtain food for themselves. He joins them for breakfast before returning to the library. Bud is disappointed to learn that Miss Hill, the librarian Bud is confident will assist him, is now married and lives in Chicago. Bud falls asleep beneath his usual tree after examining maps & distances to Chicago and pondering how he may get there. 

Bud awakens to find himself looking at the face of Bugs, his best buddy from home. Bud decides to accompany Bugs to Hooperville to catch a train and “ride the rails.” The lads travel to Hooperville, basically the Flint version of Hooverville, tent villages that have sprouted up around the country. The lads share food with various homeless people and help with dishwashing. Bud encounters Deza Malone, who tells him he “carries his family inside him.” She embraces Bud and assures him she will remember this night forever. Bud searches through his baggage before going to bed, discovering a pouch of five pebbles in Momma’s drawer. Each of the five has written on it. “Flint m. 8.11.11.” says one.

Police officers attempt to prevent a big gathering of men and youths from boarding the train in the morning. Bugs, on the other hand, can jump into an automobile. Bud hands him his luggage, but he comes to a halt as one of his prized flyers falls out. When it becomes clear that Bud cannot catch up to the train, Bugs returns the luggage to him. But when Bud returns to Hooverville, he finds that the cops have demolished much of it. Deza is nowhere to be seen. Bud returns to the mission for breakfast before heading to the library.

Bud estimates the distance between Flint and Grand Rapids at the library. It will be a 120-mile trek lasting 24 hours. He recalls how Billy Burns, a bully from home, wagered Bud that he didn’t know where his father was. Bud realizes there must be a reason his mother saved those fliers.

Bud makes his way out of Flint and into the countryside. When cars approach, he usually ducks behind bushes, but early in the morning, he’s too weary to bother, and a motorist pulls over. Mr Lewis, sometimes called Lefty Lewis, comes to a halt because Lewis is concerned about what could happen to a young Black child strolling alone on the road near Owosso, MI, around 2:30 a.m. Bud informs Mr Lewis that his mother has died and that he will be staying with his father in Grand Rapids. Herman Calloway is his father’s name. Mr Lewis catches Bud off guard when he tells him that everyone in Grand Rapids knows who Herman Calloway is.  

Bud falls asleep in Mr Lewis’ automobile and wakes up at his daughter, Mrs Sleet’s, house. Mr Lewis displays Bud the telegram he wrote to Bud’s father, informing him that Mr Lewis will send Bud home by 8 p.m. Wednesday. 

Bud and Mr Lewis spent the day travelling about Flint. When a constable stops them, Bud immediately hides a cardboard box full of posters beneath the seat at the prompting of Mr Lewis. The officer investigates the trunk for proof that Mr Lewis is engaged in the factory and railroad labour disputes. The officer eventually lets them go and urges them to keep cautious. Mr Lewis is bringing the posters to Grand Rapids for a meeting of the Pullman Porters Brotherhood. Bud falls asleep as they drive back onto the highway.

Bud and Mr Lewis have arrived at Herman Calloway’s club, the Log Cabin, before we realize it. Bud persuades Mr Lewis to leave him by briefly entering the club and pretending to have spoken with his father. Bud gets inside for real when Mr Lewis drives away.

There are several individuals inside the club. When asked if Miss Thomas sent him, Bud says he’s coming to see his father for the first time. Jimmy, the horn player, attempts to persuade Bud that Herman Calloway, or Mr C., cannot be his father. Calloway reluctantly agrees to let Bud join him for supper at the Sweet Pea, & Jimmy introduces the remaining band members. The band’s vocal stylist, Miss Thomas, takes Bud under her wing at the Sweet Pea. He eats his full, listens to the gossip and stories, and understands this is where he belongs. For the first time in the tale, he bursts into tears. Miss Thomas comforts him by saying, “Go ahead & cry, Bud; you’re home.”

Bud and Miss Thomas arrive at the Grand Calloway Station, Herman Calloway’s home. He is led to a room, claimed to be his sleeping quarters, a girl’s room with her belongings still scattered around. Curious, Bud asks about the girl whose room it is, and he told she is no longer there. Bud believes she is no longer alive. Mr Calloway enters to lock the room’s two closet doors and ominously tells Bud that he is not fooling him and that he will be returning to his rightful place. 

Miss Thomas informs Bud that if things go well in Flint, he’ll live with them for a while. When the band travels the road, bandmates offer him an old saxophone case to carry his belongings in. They give him a recorder to help him learn music and give him the moniker Sleepy LaBone. 

Bud earns his keep at the Log Cabin by cleaning down tables and chairs & mopping the floors. Considering her excellent voice, Bud wonders why the band doesn’t name itself after Miss Thomas.

Bud joins the band on the road as they tour. Bud ends up riding with Calloway after one of the performances. Mr C. advises Bud to pick up the pebble on the ground with his shoe before entering the automobile. Bud does and delivers it to him, but he’s still determining why. Mr C. places it in the glove box beside other rocks labelled with numbers and phrases. Bud assures him that he has similar rocks and will show them to Mr C.

Bud shows Mr C. his pebbles as they return to Grand Calloway Station. Mr C becomes enraged and exclaims that Bud must have stolen the stones. When Jimmy asks where he obtained them, Bud says they belonged to his mother, Angela Janet Caldwell. Bud notices Mr C.’s reaction and believes Mr C. is his father. But Jimmy tells him that Angela Janet is the name of Mr C.’s daughter. Mr C.’s grandson is Bud.

Bud retrieves the photo of the girl he’s been carrying in his bag. Mr C.’s daughter is his mother. Mr C. did not seek Bud since he was unaware of his existence. His daughter had vanished eleven years before. Miss Thomas shows Bud a picture of his mother in her room. Bud receives a request to be patient with Herman. 

Bud receives an old cardboard suitcase from the band members. One may find a baby saxophone inside. The band had purchased it for Bud. He vows to work hard and outperform them all in three weeks.

Bud organizes his belongings in his mother’s room, now his room. Deza Malone was correct, he realizes. He keeps Momma inside him. One door shuts, and another opens.

Bud Not Buddy FAQs

What is the main message of Bud, Not Buddy?

The main message of “Bud, Not Buddy” is about resilience and the power of hope. It emphasizes the importance of staying determined and finding family and belonging in unexpected places.

What grade level is Bud, Not Buddy for?

“Bud, Not Buddy” is typically recommended for readers in grades 5 to 8, making it suitable for middle school-aged students.

Does Bud ever find his father?

Yes, Bud does find his father.

How did Bud say his mother died?

Bud said his mother died when he was six years old, after she got sick with pneumonia and couldn’t recover.

Who is Bud’s actual father?

Herman E. Calloway is Bud’s actual father.

About the Author– Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy-Christopher Paul Curtis| Summary, Themes & Characters
Full NameChristopher Paul Curtis
Date of BirthMay 10, 1953
Place of BirthFlint, Michigan, United States
GenreChildren’s and young adult fiction
Notable Works-Bud, Not Buddy (1999)
-The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (1995)
-Elijah of Buxton (2007)
-The Mighty Miss Malone (2012)
Awards– Newbery Medal for “Bud, Not Buddy” (2000)
– Coretta Scott King Award for “The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963” (1996)
– Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for “Elijah of Buxton” (2008)
– ALA Notable Children’s Book Awards (multiple)
– NAACP Image Awards (multiple)
– The Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery for “The Mighty Miss Malone” (2013)

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