Module 3 — Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Winners

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Module 3 — Coretta Scott King Winner


Curtis, P. C.  (1999).  Bud, not Buddy. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.


The story, set in Depression-era Michigan, concerns a ten year old boy who runs away from an abusive foster family in search of his father, after having lost his mother at six and being shuffled between foster homes and an orphanage ever since.  Based on this description of the plot and its serious themes, the book doesn’t sound like the stuff of comedy, but Curtis has a great ear for dialogue and the first-person narration is perceptive and often laugh-out-loud funny.  Using as his only guide a flyer that he found in his mother’s things, Bud tirelessly seeks his father while facing both comical and real challenges.  Many surprises await Bud and the reader as the story unfolds.

My Impressions

The first-person narration is both hilarious and moving in this well-written piece of historical fiction by the author of The Watsons Go to Birmingham.  Curtis has a gift for dialogue and for clever storytelling that keeps the reader hooked.  Bud is a very appealing character because he maintains a positive outlook while facing great difficulties and huge disappointments.  Curtis uses several big surprises to increase the reader’s engagement and emotional involvement, and the book’s ending is in keeping with its cleverly entertaining tone and story throughout.


Rochman, H. (1999, Sept. 1). [Review of the book Bud, not Buddy].Booklist, 96, 131.

Books for Youth, Middle Readers: Gr. 4-6. Bud, 10, is on the run from the orphanage and from yet another mean foster family. His mother died when he was 6, and he wants to find his father. Set in Michigan during the Great Depression, this is an Oliver Twist kind of foundling story, but it’s told with affectionate comedy, like the first part of Curtis’ The Watsons Go to Birmingham (1995). On his journey, Bud finds danger and violence (most of it treated as farce), but more often, he finds kindness–in the food line, in the library, in the Hooverville squatter camp, on the road–until he discovers who he is and where he belongs. Told in the boy’s naive, desperate voice, with lots of examples of his survival tactics (“Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar out of Yourself”), this will make a great read-aloud. Curtis says in an afterword that some of the characters are based on real people, including his own grandfathers, so it’s not surprising that the rich blend of tall tale, slapstick, sorrow, and sweetness has the wry, teasing warmth of family folklore.

Isaacs, K. (1999). [Review of the book Bud, not Buddy]. School Library Journal, 45, 221.

Gr 4-7 — When 10-year-old Bud Caldwell runs away from his new foster home, he realizes he has nowhere to go but to search for the father he has never known: a legendary jazz musician advertised on some old posters his deceased mother had kept. A friendly stranger picks him up on the road in the middle of the night and deposits him in Grand Rapids, MI, with Herman E. Calloway and his jazz band, but the man Bud was convinced was his father turns out to be old, cold, and cantankerous. Luckily, the band members are more welcoming; they take him in, put him to work, and begin to teach him to play an instrument. In a Victorian ending, Bud uses the rocks he has treasured from his childhood to prove his surprising relationship with Mr. Calloway. The lively humor contrasts with the grim details of the Depression-era setting and the particular difficulties faced by African Americans at that time. Bud is a plucky, engaging protagonist. Other characters are exaggerations: the good ones (the librarian and Pullman car porter who help him on his journey and the band members who embrace him) are totally open and supportive, while the villainous foster family finds particularly imaginative ways to torture their charge. However, readers will be so caught up in the adventure that they won’t mind. Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud.

Using in the Library

Make a poster or handout of “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” taken from the book.  RULES AND THINGS NUMBER 3, for example, is: “If You Got to Tell a Lie, Make Sure It’s Simple and Easy to Remember.”  Have students pick several of the rules and explain for each how the rule makes sense and what the rule might tell us about Bud and possible events in the story. Students could also write and share some of their own “Rules and Things.”

Flotsam by David Wiesner

Module 3 — Caldecott Winner


Wiesner, D. (2008). Flotsam. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.


This wildly inventive wordless picture book tells the story of a mysterious camera that appears to various kids on various beaches to reveal bizarre photos of underwater life and kids who have found the camera before.  The book’s jacket offers this preface: “Flotsam: Something that floats.  If it floats in the ocean,  it may wash up on the beach, where someone may find it and be astonished, and share the discovery with someone else — as David Wiesner shares it with you.”  The reader discovers this book in ways that are similar to the kids who find the camera on the beach, and the book tells its story through its pictures and the thoughts of the reader.

My Impressions

This is such a creative and imaginative book and its wordlessness emphasizes its visual narrative technique as well as its mulitple points of view.  I think this book shows how sophisticated and complex picture books can be.  Flotsam can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults as easily as by children, and as in his other books Wiesner shows that picture books, like animation, are unnecessarily limited when they are promoted to children only.  This book has surprises on every page and the beautiful pictures are individually rewarding while they also propel the narrative of this fascinating book.


Engberg, G. (2006, Aug. 1). [Review of the book Flotsam]. Booklist, 102, 76.

/*Starred Review*/ PreS-Gr. 2. As in his Caldecott Medal Book Tuesday (1991), Wiesner offers another exceptional, wordless picture book that finds wild magic in quiet, everyday settings. At the seaside, a boy holds a magnifying glass up to a flailing hermit crab; binoculars and a microscope lay nearby. The array of lenses signals the shifting viewpoints to come, and in the following panels, the boy discovers an old-fashioned camera, film intact. A trip to the photo store produces astonishing pictures: an octopus in an armchair holding story hour in a deep-sea parlor; tiny, green alien tourists peering at sea horses. There are portraits of children around the world and through the ages, each child holding another child’s photo. After snapping his own image, the boy returns the camera to the sea, where it’s carried on a journey to another child. Children may initially puzzle, along with the boy, over the mechanics of the camera and the connections between the photographed portraits. When closely observed, however, the masterful watercolors and ingeniously layered perspectives create a clear narrative, and viewers will eagerly fill in the story’s wordless spaces with their own imagined story lines. Like Chris Van Allsburg’s books and Wiesner’s previous works, this visual wonder invites us to rethink how and what we see, out in the world and in our mind’s eye.

Fleishhacker, J. (2006, Sept. 1). [Review of the book Flotsam]. School Library Journal, 52, 186.

/* Starred Review */ K-Gr 4 –A wave deposits an old-fashioned contraption at the feet of an inquisitive young beachcomber. It’s a “Melville underwater camera,” and the excited boy quickly develops the film he finds inside. The photos are amazing: a windup fish, with intricate gears and screwed-on panels, appears in a school with its living counterparts; a fully inflated puffer, outfitted as a hot-air balloon, sails above the water; miniature green aliens kowtow to dour-faced sea horses; and more. The last print depicts a girl, holding a photo of a boy, and so on. As the images become smaller, the protagonist views them through his magnifying glass and then his microscope. The chain of children continues back through time, ending with a sepia image of a turn-of-the-20th-century boy waving from a beach. After photographing himself holding the print, the youngster tosses the camera back into the ocean, where it makes its way to its next recipient. This wordless book’s vivid watercolor paintings have a crisp realism that anchors the elements of fantasy. Shifting perspectives, from close-ups to landscape views, and a layout incorporating broad spreads and boxed sequences, add drama and motion to the storytelling and echo the photographic theme. Filled with inventive details and delightful twists, each snapshot is a tale waiting to be told. Pair this visual adventure with Wiesner’s other works, Chris Van Allsburg’s titles, or Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book (Houghton, 2004) for a mind-bending journey of imagination.

Using in the Library

Have students write descriptions of several pictures.  Collect the descriptions and then redistribute them, having students match the descriptions they receive.  (You would need multiple copies of the book or some printed copies.)

Students take the point of view of one of the kids from the book to write either a letter or a journal entry.  For a journal entry, students choose one kid and then write a journal entry to tell all about the experience and its significance.  For a letter, students choose one kid form the story who writes a letter to either the next recipient of the camera or to a prior recipient.


About Boyd Waltman

Boyd Waltman is a film editor in Houston, Texas.
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