Bud, Not Buddy Summary

Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Bud, Not Buddy Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Bud, Not Buddy is a 1999 children’s novel by American author Christopher Paul Curtis. Focusing on the story of Bud Caldwell, a ten-year-old orphan living in Flint, Michigan in 1936, the book follows his struggle to find a real home after the death of his mother four years previous. He bounces from one foster home to another, earning the derisive nickname “Buddy” from a cruel foster brother. He is protective of a few items he has left of his mother, including a picture of her as a child and a flyer of a jazz musician named Herman E. Calloway. Along with a friend, his search for answers leads him to run away and embark on a road trip to discover this musician’s link to his mother and perhaps find where he truly belongs. Considered a modern classic of African-American children’s literature, Bud, Not Buddy explores themes of race, poverty, compassion, forgiveness, and what it means to be “at home.” Critically acclaimed and regularly taught in elementary and middle schools, Bud, Not Buddy was the winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal and was adapted for the stage. It has been staged in multiple locations across the United States, winning a Distinguished Play Award from The American Alliance for Theatre and Education in 2010.

When the story opens, twelve-year-old Bud is placed with a new foster family, the Amoses. He soon encounters his new foster brother, Todd, who is the same age and takes an instant dislike to Bud. He teases him mercilessly and calls him Buddy despite Bud’s dislike for the nickname. After a fight with Todd, Bud is forced to sleep in the shed by his new foster parents. An incident involving a hornet’s nest that he mistakes for a bat leads to him getting stung, and he breaks out of the shed in a panic. Having had enough of his new home, Bude pulls a prank on Todd that makes the bully wet the bed, and then Bud escapes the house. He sleeps under a Christmas tree before being met by his good friend Bugs, who he knew from a previous stay at a  boys’ home. The two friends hatch a plan to move out west.

Together, the two friends decide to hike to Hooverville, a new shantytown in Flint, so they can catch a train to California, where they’ve heard jobs are waiting despite the Great Depression. While waiting for the train at Hooverville, Bud befriends a young girl named Deza Malone. He is given food by kind strangers, and gives back by helping Deza wash dishes. Unfortunately, he winds up having so much fun in the kitchen that he’s late for the train, and Bugs leaves without him. Bud chases after the train, tossing his suitcase with his mementos of his mother aboard the train, but misses the train. Bugs tosses the suitcase back out, saving Bud’s possessions, but he’s left behind in Hooverville while Bugs heads on to California. An altercation with the police soon results in Hooverville being burned down, and Bud is on his own on the road.

Bud researches a little more about his mother at the local library. He  then starts walking towards Grand Rapids where he hopes to find answers about his mother’s life and possibly seek out his father, whom he’s never met. Bud winds up getting a ride from Lefty Lewis, an old man who knew Buddy’s mother. Bud knows his father’s name is Calloway, and Lefty tells him that his father is a famous musician. They have a long road trip, and Buddy finds out that Lefty is a political activist and helps labor unions organize. Bud arrives in Grand Rapids and Lefty leaves him where Calloway is known to perform. Bud heads into the show and is shocked to see Calloway is a very old man who is still performing on stage. Bud approaches the old man and tells him he’s his son. Calloway coldly denies it. Bud is shocked and broken, wondering if his entire quest was for nothing.

Although Calloway makes clear he doesn’t want anything to do with Bud, the rest of the band takes a shine to the boy and lets him hang around and help the band. Bud soon starts to feel like he’s at home with the oddball group of musicians who have formed a makeshift family of their own. The only negative is Calloway, who seems to want to scare Bud away at every opportunity. Bud continues to help out at the old theater, called the Sweet Pea, and eventually gets the chance to play a saxophone himself. He falls in love with the instrument. When Calloway sees the stones that Bud carries with them, he’s enraged and accuses Bud of stealing them, as Calloway recognizes them from his past. It turns out that Calloway isn’t Bud’s  father—he was Bud’s mother’s father. Although Mr. Calloway is shell-shocked with grief at being reminded of his dead daughter, Bud comforts him, and the two are finally able to bond. Bud leaves his mementos of his mother with her father and practices the saxophone. Although he had a rocky road to get there, he feels like he’s finally home.

Christopher Paul Curtis is anAfrican American writer of children’s literature. He has published eight books so far, most focusing on African American history. He is best known for Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, both of which were critically acclaimed and received multiple awards. More recently, he released a spin-off of Bud, Not Buddy. The Mighty Miss Malone focuses on scene-stealing character Deza Malone from Hooverville. He was awarded the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award as an outstanding African-American author.