Ten-year-old Bud Caldwell awakens, that first night in his new foster home, feeling like something is stuck in his nose. Opening his eyes, he sees Todd Amos, the bullying son of his latest set of foster parents, holding a #2 Ticonderoga pencil and exclaiming, "I've never gotten it in as deep as the N on any of you other little street urchins." Losing a fight with Todd and being locked in the Amos’s shed, where he gets stung by hornets, is enough to make Bud decide to hit the road. Instead of heading back to the Home in Flint, Michigan, where he's lived since his mother died four years before, Bud heads to Grand Rapids in search of the legendary bandleader, Herman E. Calloway, whom he believes to be his real father. It's 1936, and with the Great Depression in full swing, times are tough, especially for a homeless African American child. His resilient spirit and a knack for organizing his life into "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things to Have a Funner Life and Make a Better Liar Out of Yourself" keep him moving. There's Rule Number Three: "If you got to tell a lie, make sure it's simple and easy to remember." And I particularly like Rules and Things Number 83: "If an adult tells you not to worry, and you weren't worried before, better hurry up and start 'cause you're already running late."
Readers will laugh out loud at the lively cast of characters Bud encounters and his jaunty wide-eyed way of looking at his predicaments, though his many encounters with racism will lead to sober discussion. You'll love this Newbery winner for parent/son or any book discussion groups, and it's one of the century's great read-alouds.
Reviewed by JF.
Themes: AFRICAN AMERICANS. HISTORICAL FICTION. NEWBERY MEDAL. ORPHANS.
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1999
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up