It is somewhat unfortunate given Bud Caldwell/Calloway’s overall temperament and intelligence, but this kind, compassionate little boy’s most persistent trait throughout Christopher Paul Curtis’s novel Bud, Not Buddy is his skill at fabricating or lying. Bud displays uncommon compassion for others, as when he consoles six-year-old Jerry, who has just, along with Bud, been pulled out of the breakfast line at the orphanage to be informed that both boys are being placed in new foster homes, Jerry with a family with three young girls. The slightly-older (by two years) Bud, burdened with the knowledge that he is almost certainly headed into a far worse scenario than Jerry, nevertheless takes the time to try to ease the latter child’s mind:
“I sat down next to him and said, ‘I know being in a house with three girls sounds terrible, Jerry, but it's a lot better than being with a boy who's a couple of years older than you. I'm the one who's going to have problems. A older boy is going to want to fight, but those little girls are going to treat you real good. They're going to treat you like some kind of special pet or something.'"
Bud’s compassion for others is evident throughout Curtis’s story, and it is this young boy’s compassion and intelligence that makes particularly sad the fact the trait most commonly ascribed to Bud throughout the novel is his skill at lying. Lying, for Bud, is an essential characteristic; it is a defense mechanism against the unfairness and petty cruelties he is forced to endure by virtue of his situation. The logical answer to the question—what is an important trait of Bud—then, is his proclivity for lying his way out of difficult situations, as when he is forced to lie to Mrs. Amos, the mother of 12-year-old Todd/Teddy, the violent, bullying boy in whose house the smaller, younger Bud is placed after he is pulled out of the orphanage. Bud hastens to note, upon being beaten by Todd and blamed for the attack by the older boy when Mrs. Amos enters the room, that he may have met his match in his new nemesis:
“I'm not bragging when I say that I'm one of the best liars in the world but I got to tell you, Todd was pretty doggone good. It seemed like he knew some of the same things I know, the things I think of all the time and try to remember so I don't make the same mistake more than seven or eight times. Shucks, I've got so many of them rememorized that I had to give them numbers, and it seemed like Todd knew Number 3 of Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.”
This passage reveals Bud’s secret for surviving: the ability to deceive others as to his true thoughts and motivations. It is a character trait to which he consciously clings when circumstances dictate. As Curtis’s young narrator concludes upon being compelled by Mrs. Amos to apologize for being attacked by Todd, and fearing the adult’s wrath, “if I didn't lie good enough she was going to use that strap on me.” Later, in Chapter Six, Bud again feels obligated to lie out of a well-founded sense of self-preservation. Arriving too late at the Mission in the hopes of finding food, he states, “It was time to start lying. If I didn't get any food now I'd have to steal something out of someone's garbage or I wouldn't be able to eat until the mission opened for supper.”
Bud’s propensity for lying is a constant theme throughout Bud, Not Buddy. In Chapter Ten, hoping to get a ride to Grand Rapids, where he has been falsely telling people he is from in the hopes that people will be naturally inclined to return him from whence he came, he begins to suspect that this particular lie may not work out the way he intended. Encountering an adult who may be predisposed to aid him in his journey, but who may not accept as fact the story Bud has told him, the boy reflects, “[t]hat's the bad thing about lying, once you say one you've usually got to stick with it.” Bud’s is a tragic situation, but he is smart and precocious enough to believe in himself. He knows he has to carefully maneuver himself through the adult world to achieve his objective. If lying from time to time is necessary, then so be it.