Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bud, Not Buddy


When I read an interview with Christopher Paul Curtis in the free BookPage magazine that I always pick up at the library (promoting his new kids' book, Elijah of Buxton), it prompted me to finally pluck Bud, Not Buddy off the bookshelf. It seemed fitting to read about Michigan during the Great Depression over this past weekend, when the governor was going to shut down the state until a new budget fixing the $1.75 billion deficit was agreed upon, and when Michigan leads all other states in the US in unemployment.

I was fascinated to learn that Christopher Paul Curtis not only grew up in Flint, but spent over a decade working at a GM Assembly plant there (I think one of many that has been shut down in the past twenty years) before he began writing and became successful with The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 (a Newbery Honor winner).

Bud, Not Buddy was a fun read - like Holes, it deals with injustice and racism, but Curtis has such a light touch that the story, the characters, and the humor in his writing just send the serious issues in the book creeping noiselessly into your brain. And as with Jerry Spinelli (in Maniac Magee), the writing and the description really blew me away. I honestly think it is on a par with the wonderful passages in the award-winning book that I just read for my adult book club - The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. And like Zafón, Curtis's description of books and libraries was beyond wonderful:
The next thing about the air in the library is that no other place smells anything like it. If you close your eyes and try to pick out what it is that you're sniffing you're only going to get confused, because all the smells have blended together and turned themselves into a different one.

As soon as I got into the library I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I got a whiff of the leather on all the old books, a smell that got real strong if you picked one of them up and stuck your nose real close to it when you turned the pages. Then there was the smell of the cloth that covered the brand-new books, the books that made a splitting sound when you opened them. Then I could sniff the paper, that soft, powdery, drowsy smell that comes off the pages in little puffs when you're reading something or looking at some pictures, a kind of hypnotizing smell. (pp. 53-4)
Another passage that I loved describes Bud's first experience in a restaurant:
It was like someone took a old pot and poured about a hundred gallons of hot apple cider and a hundred gallons of hot coffee into it, then stirred eight or nine sweet potato pies, crusts and all, into that, then let six big steamy meat loafs float on top of all that, then threw in a couple of handfuls of smashed potatoes, then boiled the whole thing on high. This must be exactly how heaven smells! (p. 161-2)
This is exactly the kind of book that I want to share with kids (including both of mine) - it's got fantastic writing, suspense, clever but not condescending looks at the fears of childhood, and a wonderful coming of age story, coupled with historical and racial experiences that may as well be in Outer Mongolia for many American kids today. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Some web sites that were interesting while reading Bud, Not Buddy:

- Michigan Historical Museum Depression News
- Christopher Paul Curtis's website (check out his books for younger kids!)
- Photos from the 1930s and 1940s: Resources for Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust and Christopher Paul Curtis's Bud, Not Buddy