A boy on the lam searches for his father

BUD, NOT BUDDY By Christopher Paul Curtis Delacorte Press 243 pp., $15.95 Ages 8-12

If I were your boss, your drill sergeant, or your mother, these would be my orders: Read "Bud, not Buddy," by Christopher Paul Curtis. The book is a gem, of value to all ages, not just the young people to whom it is aimed.

Set in the Depression era, the story unfolds around a 10-year-old boy orphaned four years earlier when his mother, the only parent he ever knew, passed on. Though they were together only six years, Bud and his mother forged a bond that sustains him through cruel foster care placements and repeated stays at a decidedly unfriendly orphanage.

A runaway during most of the novel, Bud has adventure after adventure trying to keep his belly half full. Through it all, his constant companion is a tattered cardboard suitcase containing all his earthly belongings. In particular, it holds mementos of his time with his mother. Eventually piecing together these clues, Bud pursues the man he believes to be his father.

In addition to propelling him onward, the mementos carry Bud backward to his mother's tender words and loving care. Though familyless for the last four years, Bud knows what it means to love and be loved. This knowledge, which Bud dispenses almost offhandedly throughout his narration, makes "Bud, not Buddy" appropriate, even important, for all ages. Yet Bud (whatever you do, don't call him Buddy!) is by no means merely a spokesman for family values. He is believably all boy - wise to adults' ways, terrified of bats and vampires.

In a time when it is all too easy to misread the signs of a child's yearning to belong, "Bud, not Buddy" reminds us with great humor and grace what a difference connectedness makes.

*Trudy C. Palmer taught African-American literature at Tufts University.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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