HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Bud, Not Buddy
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publisher: Laurel Leaf; republished in 2004
Related website: www.randomhouse.com/kids (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Said to be for ages 8 and up, but I would say ages 12 and up
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy (published in 1999 by Delacorte Press; republished in 2002 by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, as division of Random House Inc., New York City, NY). It is 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, and ten-year-old Bud Caldwell lives in Flint, MI. His mother, who always said that his name is Bud, not Buddy, never told him anything about his father, but she kept a bunch of fliers about a musician and band-leader named Herman E. Calloway of Grand Rapids, MI, and Bud fantasizes that Calloway must be his father. Unfortunately, Bud’s mother died four years earlier, and Bud has been in and out of the orphanage and various foster homes, the latest being the Amoses. Then when Todd Amos beats him up and Mrs. Amos decides to send him back to the orphanage for defending himself, Bud decides to run away to Grand Rapids to find his father. Will he make it? And what will he find if he gets there?
Author Christopher Paul Curtis, who had received a Newbery honor in 1996 for The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 and later gained another in 2007 for Elijah of Buxton, said that while Bud, Not Buddy, which won the Newbery Medal in 2000, is fictional, many of the situations which Bud encounters are based on events which occurred during the 1930s and a couple of the characters are drawn from real people. Thus, the reader will learn about life for African-Americans in the Great Depression, including Hoovervilles, hobos, racism, the KKK, and jazz music. The book certainly has a charm about it and finds its way to a happy ending. However, there are some questionable aspects to the story which need at least to be noted. Though it is never mentioned out in the open, there is a constant underlying suggestion that Bud is an illegitimate child. And some people may not care for the pencil-up-the-nose and the shotgun-fantasy scenes.
Also there are a few language issues. In addition to some common euphemisms and childish slang (dang, darn, gee, and pee), Bud says “doggoned” a lot—and I mean A LOT!—as well as “kiss my wrist” several times. And others use such “polite” profane interjections as sweet baby Jesus, Lord knows, for God’s sake, my Lord, by God, and Lord have mercy. But most troubling is the fact that deception is accepted as a means of survival with little consequence. In other words, Bud lies—again, A LOT! In fact, throughout the book are found several of “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.” Some of these are funny and harmless, but rule number 3 is “If you got to tell a lie, make sure it’s simple and easy to remember.” One might argue that Bud doesn’t have parents to reinforce right from wrong, but many parents will cringe at a book which appears to endorse lying. As one friend noted, “I’m sure leaving that controversial content in helped it win the coveted Newbery Award.” So caution is recommended, and those who parent from a Biblical worldview will want to pre-read the book and discuss the objectionable elements with their children. For these reasons, I would not suggest it for anyone younger than ages twelve and up.