Saturday, September 13, 2008

52. Bud, Not Buddy


by Christopher Paul Curtis
read by James Avery


This is the wonderful story of Bud (not Buddy!), a motherless African American boy who goes looking for the father he’s never met, a famous black jazz musician, during the Depression in Michigan. The book seems to present the worst (Bud in the orphanage and a foster home) and the best (Lefty’s and Herman’s much-better lives) of the experiences of African Americans during the Depression, and probably not so much of what was more typical of the majority.

Nevertheless, I think this book would spark wonderful discussions with readers in grades 5 and up, about racism and life during the Depression. You could make a great unit on the Depression for middle-schoolers with this and other Newbery winners A Year Down Yonder, Out of the Dust, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I love what Bud had to say about librarians and libraries:
Shucks, this is one of the bad things about talking to librarians, I asked one question and already she had us digging through three different books. (chapter 7, page 58)
”…if I remember correctly, you and your mother had quite different tastes in books. I remember your mother used to like mysteries and fairy tales, isn’t that so?”
Man, I can’t believe she remembered that! (chapter 9, page 89)
There’s another thing that’s strange about the library, it seems like time flies when you’re in one. One second I was opening the first page of the book, hearing the cracking sound the pages make,… and the next second the librarian was standing over me saying, “I am very impressed, you really devoured that book, didn’t you?...”(chapter 9, page 90)

I also appreciated Curtis’ advice in the afterword (where we learn that the author based Lefty and Herman on his own grandfathers, with whom they share many characteristics): “Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive, you make them, and yourself, immortal.” Advice I should take as my own parents turn 80 this year.

Actor James Avery makes Bud sound like the upbeat, imaginative, vulnerable ten-year-old he is, and does wonderful voices for the other characters as well, especially the members of Herman’s band. Jazz music plays softly in the background in various parts of the reading, but in this case, it enhances the experience of listening to the story rather than distracting from it. The only thing I could have done without in the audiobook was Curtis, in the afterword, allowing his young daughter to actually sing the little “song” she wrote at age 5 that one of the characters in the book sings. Bud shares my opinion: ”That was about the worst song I’d ever heard.” (page 124, chapter 11)

[A variation of this post appears on The Newbery Project.]

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