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Bud, Not Buddy centers around Bud Caldwell, a 10 year old orphan who has grown up in Flint, Michigan. The book opens in 1936, four years after Bud's mother's death. Bud has just been placed with the Amoses, his third foster family. Unfortunately, the Amoses' son Todd bullies Bud, causing Bud to escape.
Bud decides to run away from his foster home in the hope of finding a permanent home and a better life. He brings with him mementos of his mother - a bag of stones, a special blanket, a childhood photograph of his mom, and fliers for a jazz band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, and their leader Herman E. Calloway. Bud decides that he should try to find Calloway, who he thinks might be his father.
Bud and Bugs, another orphaned boy, team up and go to the shantytown (or Hooverville) so they can hop a California-bound train and hopefully get jobs in the West. However, Bugs makes it onto the train and Bud doesn't, so Bud returns to Flint, where a librarian gives him instructions for getting to Grand Rapids and finding Calloway. Bud begins the long hike from Flint to Grand Rapids, but on the way there, he runs into Lefty Lewis, who cajoles Bud, using food, into accepting a ride and help. Lewis provides Bud with a real bed to sleep in for the night, and a ride to Grand Rapids.
Upon reaching Grand Rapids, Bud finds the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, the band which his father is a member of. Though his father rejects him, the other band members, including saxophone player Steady Eddie and band leader Herman E. Calloway, take more kindly to Bud and give him some dinner. Eventually, Bud finds out that Calloway is his grandfather, and he finds the home he wants with the jazz band. When Bud tells his remaining family members of his mother's death, it causes much sadness.
The book closes with Bud at the Calloway home, happy and busy learning how to play his gift from Steady Eddie, a new saxophone. Bud then finds out that his new room was once his mother's room.
About the Book
Bud, Not Buddy tells the story of a young boy who lives in Michigan during the Great Depression. After living in an orphanage and escaping from a foster home where he's forced to sleep in a shed, Bud travels on his own to find a musician, Herman E. Calloway, who he believes is his father. On his way, he finds a Hooverville, a city made up of the homeless and jobless, where people treat him well. He also meets a kind limousine driver, who warns him about the dangers of a black person traveling alone. When Bud finally meets Herman E. Calloway, he is welcomed by Herman's entire band. Herman, though, isn't so sure how he feels about this boy who claims to be his son. Herman and Bud are both in for a surprise when they find out that Bud isn't Herman's son, but his grandson.
Before Reading the Book
Explain to students that this book takes place during the Great Depression, a time of great hardship for many Americans. Talk to them about the hunger and joblessness that many Americans faced. Discuss with students that the events in this story occurred in the 1930s, decades before many Civil Rights advances came about for African Americans. This made the Great Depression especially difficult for African Americans. Encourage students to read about the Great Depression in other books from the school library.
- After being beaten up and forced to sleep in a shed in his new foster home, ten-year-old Bud decides to go "on the lam." He runs away from the foster home and from the orphanage where he'd lived before going to the home. During the depression, many children were forced to travel by themselves. Think about Bud's experiences in the library, the bread line, and the Hooverville. Do you think he was luckier than most children on their own? Why or why not?
- Times were hard for lots of people during the Great Depression- not just Bud. Talk your own families to find out about how your grandparents and great- grandparents were affected by the depression. Share their stories with your classmates.
- Herman E. Calloway always made sure that one member of his band was white.
Why was it important for him to have a white band member? What could a white man do in the 1930s that a black man wasn't allowed to do?
- The Great Depression took place before people had televisions. Movies and live entertainment, like jazz bands, were especially important in helping people forget their own hardships. Go to your community library and check out some CDs of 1930s jazz. You might want to listen to Betty Carter, the musical inspiration for Miss Thomas, or Billie Holiday, another legendary jazz singer. Play the music for your classmates, and discuss how this music compares to today's popular music.
- After Bud's momma dies and he is moved from the orphanage into foster homes, he stops crying when things make him sad. He says he doesn't have any more tears. But when he sits in a good restaurant with Herman Calloway's band laughing and talking, he can't stop crying. Why do you think Bud cries that night?
- Bud's story takes place during the 1930s, when orphanages are still common and lots of children and families have lost everything due to the Great Depression. How do you think life would be different for Bud if he was growing up today?