Bud, Not Buddy Summary

Bud, Not Buddy is a 1999 novel by Christopher Paul Curtis about Bud, an orphaned boy in Depression-era Michigan who searches for his long-lost father.

  • Bud, now ten, has spent the four years since his mother's death in various foster homes. After an incident with the Amos family, he runs away in the middle of the night.
  • The man he suspects to be his father, Herman E. Caldwell, lives in Grand Rapids. Bud is given a ride there by Lefty Lewis, a union supporter.
  • In Grand Rapids, Bud joins Herman's jazz band and learns the true nature of their relationship.

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Last Updated February 29, 2024.


Bud, Not Buddy is a heartwarming novel by Christopher Paul Curtis, set during the challenging times of the Great Depression in the United States. This story follows the adventures of Bud Caldwell, a ten-year-old African American boy, on his quest to find his father. After his mother's death, Bud is left to navigate the world on his own, armed with a suitcase filled with a few precious belongings, a flyer for a jazz band, and a series of life lessons he's formulated into Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things. Believing the flyer may hold the key to his father's identity, Bud embarks on a journey that takes him from Flint, Michigan, to Grand Rapids, in search of the man he believes to be his father, Herman E. Calloway. Through his travels, Bud encounters a variety of characters who help shape his journey and his understanding of family and belonging.

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Bud being placed in a new foster home, his third since his mother's passing. However, his stay is short-lived due to a violent encounter with his foster brother, Todd, and the subsequent unfair treatment by Todd’s parents. After a daring escape involving a misunderstanding with a hornet's nest, Bud decides to hit the road and pursue the only clue he has about his father's identity – a flyer for a jazz band led by Herman E. Calloway.

Bud's journey is fraught with challenges and small victories. His initial plan to seek help from a librarian named Miss Hill is foiled when he learns she has moved away. Despite this setback, Bud's resilience shines through as he joins forces with Bugs, another boy from the Home, with plans to "ride the rails" to Chicago. However, after being separated from Bugs, Bud resolves to continue on his own to Grand Rapids, where he believes Calloway resides.

Bud’s adventure is marked by moments of kindness from strangers, such as the makeshift family who includes him in their meal at a mission, and Lefty Lewis, a man who offers Bud a ride and helps him on his way to finding Calloway. Each encounter teaches Bud valuable lessons about trust, kindness, and the complexities of human nature.

Upon reaching Grand Rapids, Bud's determination leads him to Calloway and his jazz band. Despite a rocky introduction and Calloway's initial denial of any connection to Bud, the presence of certain items in Bud's suitcase and his own memories lead to the revelation that Calloway is, in fact, his grandfather. This discovery brings a sense of closure and belonging to Bud, who has longed for a family since his mother's death.

The novel concludes with Bud finding a new home among Calloway, the band members, and especially with Miss Thomas, the band's vocalist, who becomes a maternal figure to him. Bud's journey, filled with moments of fear, laughter, and growth, ultimately leads him to a place where he is loved and accepted, marking the end of his quest and the beginning of a new chapter in his life.

Bud, Not Buddy is not only a tale of a young boy's quest for family but also a vivid portrayal of the American experience during the Great Depression, highlighting the endurance of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Through Bud’s eyes, readers are reminded of the importance of hope, the value of perseverance, and the power of music to heal and unite.

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