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Bud, Not Buddy

This Year's Newberry Award Winner Features a Foster Child in Search of His Father

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Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis is the story of Bud (not Buddy, as he carefully points out to everyone he meets), a ten-year-old African-American foster child who is determined to find his father in Depression-era Michigan. All his worldly possessions, which include rocks his mother collected and 25-year-old flyers for a band-Herman E. Calloway's Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!! (with six exclamation points!) fit into one battered suitcase that he takes everywhere.

Bud is an astute observer of the world around him. In fact, he commits the world's rules to memory once he figures them out-hence, Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself, of which there are at least 328.

He escapes from an abusive foster home (is there any other kind in children's literature outside of Betsy Byars' The Pinballs or Katherine Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins?) Unwilling to return to the overcrowded orphanage where he lived the previous four years, Bud sets out on a search for his roots. Along the way, he experiences the Great Depression firsthand, seeking meals at homeless missions, camping in Hooverville and trying to hop a freight train to Chicago.

The people Bud encounters are poor but mostly kind, and usually African-American. Curtis, a Newberry Award finalist for his first children's book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, conveys the racism of the era with just a few passing references-a white family with a sick baby in a Hooverville who will not accept blankets or food from Negroes; a white piano player in Calloway's band who holds title to the bandleader's mansion because Negroes could not own property in Grand Rapids circa 1936.

Bud is a smart, personable kid with an imagination that causes trouble for him and laughter for the reader. Whether he is running into vampires at three a.m. (how else to explain the box that reads URGENT: CONTAINS HUMAN BLOOD?) or ordering his first restaurant meal, he retains his sense of wonder. His ruminations on family and what it means to have one ring true, even when the truth about his own family is both more and less than he expected.

Bud, Not Buddy has a dreamlike, fantastical tone while maintaining a realistic edge. In this 1999 Newberry Medal winner, Curtis does a remarkable job of evoking an era too few children know anything about, while exploring what it really means to be family.

Reviewed by Julie Stevens, attorney in family law and adoptive mom in Oregon.

2000 Adoptive Families Magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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