Another Door Opens: A Review of ‘Bud, Not Buddy!’

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”–  Mother Teresa

Reading Level

Grades 4-5          [common core]

Grades 3-5, 6-8 [according to Scholastic which reflects the grade level at which a student reading on grade could read the book independently]

Grade 5                 [AR]

Interest Level

Grades 4-8          [AR]

Review and Comments

Bud, Not Buddy is a story about a ten year boy who is virtually alone in the very harsh world of the Great Depression.  Bud is living somewhere between the memories of his deceased mother and a yearning for the father he never knew.  During his search for his father, the reader is exposed to lessons about this period in history through the people Bud meets and his deepest thoughts and feelings as only a ten year old can express them.

There are two things that are definitely part of Bud’s DNA.  First, he loves his mother, and he knows she loved him. Second, he insists on being called the correct name.  He carries his mother’s love in a heart that is intertwined with his identity as Bud, not Buddy!  She explained to him that “A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower – in-waiting.  Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up.  It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world.  And that’s you.”  His cherished memories are of his mother, yet there is a nagging mystery about her own past.  She promised Bud she would tell him about it someday, but she dies before she can fulfill that promise.  So, Bud takes the clues he has gleaned from their conversations and comes to the conclusion that his father is a musician named Herman E. Calloway.

The reader is introduced to ten year old Bud when he is living in a home for children.  Soon after his story begins, Bud is placed in a temporary care home, which is just disastrous in every sense of the word!  He recalls the assurance his mom gave him that “when things are dark and one door closes, don’t worry, because another door opens.” Focusing on that promise, Bud makes the decision to finally begin the search for his father instead of just dreaming about finding him some day.  He sets out equipped with the small amount of information from his mother, a suitcase containing his most precious possessions including and a flyer with a picture of the man he believes is his father, and other information he gathers along the way.

Bud is confident as he begins his quest.  He has a certain sense of the world –cleverly worded lessons that profess truths he has learned in his short life.  He calls them “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things to Have a Funner Life and Make a Better Liar Out of Yourself.” He reviews these lessons throughout his journey to help him make sense of the world and the people he meets.  And there are interesting and very supportive people along the way who actually help him survive and guide him.  A family pretends he is a member of their family so he will be allowed to eat a meal at a soup kitchen.  The kind people of Hooverville, a shanty town, give him food and good advice.  He then meets a man named Mr. Lewis who educates Bud about the dangers of traveling in certain places in Michigan.  He also warns him about people who are “as dangerous as the KKK.”  The interaction between Bud and Mr. Lewis is humorous and yet the reality is quite sobering.

Bud finally meets the man he believes is his father, Herman Calloway, and boldly announces he is his son. The reader will not be surprised when Herman adamantly denies he is Bud’s father.  Herman treats Bud with disbelief and suspicion. The other band members and the singer, Miss Thomas, however take a liking to Bud even though they find his story incredible.  They treat him well, encourage him, and even give him a musician’s nickname of “Sleepy LaBone”.

What finally convinces Herman that Bud is actually related?  It begins with the rocks in his suitcase.  Bud explains his precious rocks belonged to his mom.  Herman then realizes Bud’s mother is his very own daughter, Angela.  The photo of his mom as a child is the final proof that Herman needs.  He is Bud’s grandfather.  Herman finally recognizes Bud as his grandson, but a close and loving relationship between them never develops in the story. Herman’s grief at the news of his daughter’s death is all consuming. The story ends with Bud belonging to a family of musicians and a future that assures a new door has opened.

This story is filled with significant events which occurred during the 1930’s, and yet Curtis includes colorful humor as a balance.  The reader is exposed to historical information about: the Great Depression, the laws in parts of Michigan, a cardboard jungle, the KKK, and the dangerous birth of the railroad workers’ union.

In the afterword, Curtis encourages the reader to spend time learning about his or her grandparents’ lives while growing up so their memories can be kept alive. He gives some very good advice.

Bud, Not Buddy is a very good story for children on the upper end of the suggested reading level. Those readers will better appreciate Bud’s struggles and the support he received along the way by very special guardians.

Possible Concerns

  • Bud described the expression of his mother in a photo when she was 10 years old. He says, “She had two six-shooter pistols in her hands and the way her face looked you could tell she wished she could’ve emptied them on someone.”
  • A girl named Deeza and Bud kiss. It says, “She closed her eyes and mooshed her lips up and lean close to me.  I scooched my lips up and mashed my face on Deeza.  We stuck like that for a hot second, but it felt like a long time…. I’d practiced on the back of my hand before, but this was the first time I’d ever busted slob with a real live girl.”

Further Discussion

Awards for Bud, Not Buddy

Newberry Medal Award, 2000

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award, 2001

Coretta Scot King Award for Authors, 2000

Golden Kite Award, 2000

Vocabulary that should be defined before reading for better comprehension

Pretty Boy Floyd

Machine Gun Kelly

Al Capone

John Brown

Public Enemy Number 1

Real McCoy

KP duty



Cardboard jungle

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea

Cop a squat.

That’s how the cookie crumbles.

What’s the scoop?

Were your ears burning?

Pull your own weight.

Practice map skills

The librarian showed Bud how to use the mileage guide to find the distance between cities.

  1. Practice using the mileage guide to find the distance between two cities.
  2. Locate the states of Michigan and Illinois in an atlas or on a map of the U. S. Locate the cities mentioned in the story.

Bud’s suitcase held his most precious possessions – items that reflected his deepest feelings: his blanket, a bag of rocks, a picture of his Mom, and a flyer advertising a band.

  1. What items would you choose to put in a suitcase that that would reflect you?

Online Resources

Bud, Not Buddy Discussion Guide 

Literature Circle Guide

 “A Study Guide for the Great Depression”  [grader 2-5 and up] includes interesting information about hobos, soup kitchens, metaphors used during the Great Depression, and price lists of the 1930’s.

Catholic Resources

Patron Saints

  1. Saint Jerome Emiliani is the patron saint of orphans and abandoned children. His feast day is February 8.
  2. Saint Benedict Labre` is the patron saint of hobos. His feast day is April 16.
  3. Cecelia is the patron saint of musicians. Her feast day is November 22.

Scripture – Life and Dignity of the Human Person [from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops]

  1. Genesis 1:26-31 – God created man and woman in his image.
  2. Deuteronomy 10:17-19 – God loves the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.
  3. Psalms 139:13-16 – God formed each of us and knows us intimately.
  4. Proverbs 22:2 – The Lord is the maker of both rich and poor.
  5. Luke 10:25-37 – The good Samaritan recognized the dignity in the other and cared for his life.
  6. John 4:1-42 – Jesus broke with societal and religious customs to honor the dignity of the Samaritan woman.
  7. Romans 12:9-18 – Love one another; contribute to the needs of others, live peaceably with all.
  8. 1 Corinthians 3:16 – You are holy, for you are God’s temple and God dwells in you.
  9. Galatians 3:27-28 – All Christians are one in Christ Jesus.
  10. James 2:1-8 – Honor the poor.
  11. 1 John 3:1-2 – See what love the Father has for us, that we should be called Children of God.
  12. 1 John 4:7-12 – Let us love one another because love is from God.

CCC 1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

CCC 1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design

CCC 2434 A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. “Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.” Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.

CCC 2435 Recourse to a strike is morally legitimate when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit. It becomes morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good.

CCC 2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: “Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; “you received without pay, give without pay.” It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones.  When “the poor have the good news preached to them,” it is the sign of Christ’s presence.234

CCC 2444 “The Church’s love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition.” This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor.  Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to “be able to give to those in need.”  It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty





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