Bud, Not Buddy is a children’s book that chronicles the adventures of Bud Caldwell, an African American ten-year-old boy who has spent the past four years of his life in the foster care system after his mother unexpectedly dies. Bud has never met his father, but is convinced that he knows who he is, and sets out to journey across Michigan and find him. The book is set in the Great Depression, a time when many people were struggling to find enough money to survive and overt racism was still popular. Thus, the book discusses many issues that it might be hard to talk to children about, from to death to poverty to racism.
In American society, I think we have a tendency to want to keep our children as innocent and naïve as possible for as long as we can. Children are seen as pure-minded beings, and to talk about these kinds of hard topics with them can become very difficult, because we do not want them to lose their playfulness that comes from being ignorant about some of the darker aspects of humanity.
While this is acceptable when children are still fairly young, I believe that it is important for them to be exposed to these realities before they come into contact with them on a more personal level. Discussing difficult topics with children makes them more ready to handle them when they encounter these issues in their lives, so I commend Christopher Paul Curtis, the author of Bud, Not Buddy, for not shying away from writing about these issues in his children’s novel. I think that by a time a child is old enough to read a chapter book like Bud, Not Buddy, they are also old enough to think critically about social injustice and wrap their minds around the pain of losing someone that is close to them.
The book makes it especially possible to do this because of the way that the main character does have to deal so directly with these issues, and readers get to look inside his mind as he navigates his life. Readers gain a more intimate and real exposure to these issues through the way that Bud narrates his life. They can feel his hunger and understand how badly he wanted to be let inside the mission for breakfast. His fear is palpable every time he starts to think about parting with the suitcase filled with the memories of his mother and the man he believes to be his father. He has to listen to an older man describe to him the way that white townsfolk feel about blacks passing through their town. Bud lives in a harsh reality, and while most children who read this book will not have to deal with all of the problems that he does, it is important that they are exposed to them so that they have a fuller understanding of the way that the world can work, fair or not. To keep children shielded from these facts for too long could result in them being struck by the realities in a less gentle way when they see them for themselves.