Book Review: BUD, NOT BUDDY
In 1936 Flint, Michigan ten-year-old orphan Bud Caldwell makes up his mind to “go on the lamb”, leaving an abusive foster home, in search of his father. He is sure that his father is the famous jazz musician Herman E. Calloway by the few clues his mother left behind. “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” assist him along his journey as some doors close and others open to find family, who he is supposed to be, and be reunited with his mother’s love. The author Christopher Curtis achieved the Newberry Award for this work of historical fiction by drawing on circumstances and character’s from his own African-American family during the Depression.
The bully Todd Amos, son of Bud’s foster family, is the impetus to the true beginning of Bud’s journey. After leaving the Amos household, Bud begins in search of Ms. Hill, a friendly librarian he remembers from when his mother used to take him on visits for books. Upon finding out that Ms. Hill has gotten married and moved to Chicago, his friend Bugs appears in his life and convinces him to head to “Hooperville” to hop the train going west toward Grand Rapids. Bud makes up his mind to find his father. While at the shanty town, Bud receives his first kiss from Deza Malone. It is Deza’s character that foreshadows the story’s outcome as she comments to him, “I guess you sort of carry your family around inside of you, huh (73)?” After unsuccessfully hitching a ride on the train Bud decides to walk the 150 mile distance. At 2:30 in the morning Mr. Lefty Lewis spots Bud as he is driving by. He extends to Bud, a scarcely rare offering of kindness during these times, a huge family meal and a ride to Grand Rapids. Mr. Lewis drives Bud right up to the front door of Herman Calloway’s Club. Inside the double doors of the club the whole band becomes Bud’s audience now as he makes his announcement to Herman and in front of Jimmy the
old horn guy, Doug the “thug” the drummer, “Steady” Eddie the sax man, Chug “Doo-Doo Bug” Cross who plays trombone, and Roy “Dirty Deed” Breed the white piano player. Bud meets Ms. Thomas, the band’s singer, at dinner that night at the Sweet Pea. Bud is immediately drawn to her caring, maternal nature and he discerns that she “must be the most beautiful woman in the world (170).”
Bud’s own conception of an idea is that it “start[s] real, real small just like seeds…and before you can say Jack Robinson they’ve gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could (92).
” The main character Bud Caldwell is jazz. One definition of jazz is that it is an idea first created in the mind, inspired by one’s passions and willed next into playing (www.apassionforjazz.net).” Bud is a strong young man. He often comments that he “has given up crying.” He is not singing the Blues.
His first-person recollection narrative is lead by a prominently admirable character able to cheerfully improvise through the reality of a black, orphan boy during the Great Depression. Bud’s life is played out in a “tap-tap-tapped, shuhshuhshuhshuhshuh, wugga, wugga, wugga, wugga, cling-clang-clinging, and hum” that is interspersed with lots of “woop, zoop, sloop” moments of discourse. The shade of his skin and the hue of his past just add to Bud’s repertoire becoming a successfully syncopated conclusion of his idea. Bud really has carried around his family within him all along.
In a desperate period of our nation’s history, The Great Depression, the practiced, yet individualized style of Jazz emerged as both respite and encouragement for people to continue on and succeed. This book offers children endless possibilities for learning as it is full of historical and musical references, and speaks to such social conditions as poverty, single-parenthood, and abuse. It is also interesting for children to recognize the differences in character while considering the many different conditions during this period. By the age of ten Bud was quite an astute student of life to make note of it in order to avoid future negative interruptions. The “scrawny” ten-year-old Bud is to be greatly admired by all of us as an example to follow one’s own reasoned intuition while staying true to upholding the good character our mothers taught us.