ALAN v27n3 - Non-Print YA Literature Connection- Bud, Not Buddy: Common Reading, Uncommon Listening

Volume 27, Number 3
Spring 2000


Bud, Not Buddy
Common Reading, Uncommon Listening

Marione M. Kaiser, Editor

This year's winner of both the Newbery and the Coretta Scott King awards, Bud, Not Buddy , with its first person voice out of the 1930's, tells a universal story of love, survival, family, and identity. Many, many teachers across the country are reading the book and sharing it with their students, or are planning to do so. Perhaps the model offered in this article will give you an idea of how you can structure a common reading experience around a book on tape with accompanying response approaches for student engagement with and reaction to a good common reading.

Working With Audio-books

In my last column I wrote about my renewed appreciation for audio-books-the joy of being read to, the excellence of professional readers, the benefits of recorded books for individual students, particularly slower or disabled readers in the classroom or at home. I interviewed teachers who had used books on tape in their classrooms for a variety of purposes, and they shared their evaluations of this medium and its usefulness for some students. These teachers spoke about the expense of accumulating a number of audio-books for their classroom or department libraries and explored local funding sources that could be tapped to help solve this problem.

I also wrote in the last column about how listening to audio-books had forced me to slow down the speed at which I had become accustomed to reading. I mentioned that as professionals we have so much reading material to keep up with that, over the years, we tend to speed up all our reading. I mused on how nice it was to be made to slow down when reading fiction or poetry. Several books I referred to were adult books which I had turned to when my vision prohibited my reading print materials with ease. Others were young adult books, primarily books I had read, some many times over, some Newbery winners from the last 25 years. Still others were by various, vibrant writers of the 80's and 90's, such as John H. Ritter, Gary Paulsen, Gary Soto, Walter Dean Myers, Karen Cushman, Jerry Spinelli, Sharon Draper, Karen Hesse, and others.

By now I have listened to many young adult novels on tape and shared many of these with my students. We have examined this medium in my Teaching Adolescent Readers class, and some graduate students in this class have shared them with their own middle and high school students. Among the titles we have read and listened to together are Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved , Crutcher's Iron Man , and "classics," including The Outsiders, The Pigman, A Day No Pigs Would Die, The Contender , and The Slave Dancer .

Audio-books in the Middle School Workshop

We discussed how many elementary teachers, maybe most, still do read-alouds with their classes, a chapter or two or three each day. Sadly, this practice may cease altogether in the middle and high school grades. When considering reading aloud, middle and high school teachers may think they need to read to each of four or five classes a day. There are at least two problems with this plan. First, teachers are bright and, just like their students, can get bored easily reading the same story over and over throughout a day. Second, and more important, no matter how brilliant and dramatic teachers are as readers, most cannot sustain their voices and enthusiasm over repeated readings of the same material. As a result, no matter how much students appreciate being read aloud to and no matter how valuable teachers think it is, many retreat from the practice in favor of silent reading.

After our work with audio-books in class, several of my students proposed a way to integrate good oral reading into their middle school classes. These teachers had been dissatisfied that, given their workshop approaches with students choosing all their own books, the students had practically no reading in common. Their workshops are patterned after Atwell and Rief, models in which students select from the school or classroom library books within certain genre guidelines, respond in journals to their reading, and participate in book talks and group book shares. Periodically, the teachers invite students to design posters, bookmarks, and other forms of art work. And occasionally the students write book reviews which are placed in the library, and in one case, in a local book store and the local newspaper.

More Than Individualized Reading

While the teachers do occasionally share a poem or a very short piece of some kind with their classes, these teachers feel the need to include more common reading in their instructional approaches. They are determined, however, not to return to an "everyone reading the same book at the same time" approach that they gave up long ago in favor of more student choice. But they also know that when students respond to the same work they can observe the variety of legitimate responses possible to a single piece of writing. Louise Rosenblatt Literature as Exploration (Noble & Noble, 1938)] first articulated this concept many years ago. She spoke about readers "expanding their repertory of response strategies," and, in fact, this is what happens as readers, young and old, hear each other's responses to a single work. Through this concept and other related ones, Rosenblatt helped us all define the nature of an authentic reading community. It was this sense of a reading community that these teachers felt was missing in their workshops. I proposed to these teachers that we could create a model for solving more than one problem. I suggested using an audio-book as a centerpiece, a common reading in their genre approach in their workshops.

Criteria for Selection of Audio-books

In order to select just the right book for this model we used the following criteria: quality of the book, relevance of the themes to maturity of students, quality of the reading on the audio-book, potential of the book to absorb students without text before them.

We decided that it did not much matter whether the book was a mystery, a fantasy, a problem novel, an historical fiction, etc., so long as the other criteria were met. In other words, a book might be historical fiction but be so packed with new historical information that it would be too difficult for students to keep track of without the text in front of them. Or a mystery might be such that there are too many details for students to feel in control of without the text in front of them. But any genre would do if it met the main criteria. The teachers noted how popular the Harry Potter books had become as readalouds despite many fantastical elements and lack of availability of paperback texts (for books 2-4.)

We agreed that the language of the book be accessible to these teachers' students in order to make the listening experience as pleasant as possible. If dialect were used in the book, we decided that it could not be so heavy as to create a problem for listeners. In matters of style, we agreed that probably a straight narrative would be preferable to complex flashbacks. We debated about points-of-view, but both teachers noted their students' overwhelming preference for first person narratives. We felt that our criteria were flexible and would help guide us, and others, in selecting a book that would likely be successful with a whole class. This was a far better approach than just selecting what we, as adults, might enjoy most.

Before going further, we reminded ourselves of the value of a good audio-book. Aside from saving the teacher's voice we recalled how much an excellent narrator adds to the reading of any story. A fine oral reader expresses feelings of excitement, fear, curiosity, love, anger, and so on. In particular, if the narrator is supposed to be a very old or very young person, the age comes through in the voice. Other vocal elements that come through are naivete, sarcasm, innocence, cynicism, pity, and so forth. These matters of voice and tone are often critical in students' comprehension and enjoyment of a story, and silent reading simply does not provide the clues many readers need. In addition, the pace of reading on an audio-book is generally sped up or slowed down to reflect the action; similarly, suspense is expressed by the tone, pace, diction, style, and dramatic interpretation of a reader.

Then, we set about to listen to several new books and reviewed our impressions of previous books on tape we had listened to in or out of class. We finally decided to use a brand new book, an historical fiction, Bud, Not Buddy . Many students in my teachers' classes had loved The Watson's Go to Birmingham - 1963 ; in addition, one of the teachers was going to be working with a social studies teacher on her team on a unit centered on the Great Depression. We had seriously considered both Hesse's Out of the Dust and George Ella Lyon's Borrowed Children also with Depression contexts. But we decided that a male narrator and reader would have broader appeal for these teachers' classes.

Curtis-Newbery and King Awards Winner

While we were working on this model the book we had chosen to work with, Bud, Not Buddy , was selected as both Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award winner for 2000. At the time we chose the book, we did know that it had been nominated for the Newbery, but we hadn't predicted it would be the winning book. So the novel used in this model turns out to be perhaps the most popular book of the school year. The audio version of Bud, Nor Buddy (Listening Library, 1999, $22) that we used was insued before the Newbery Award was announced. The reader on this version is actor Robert Avery, an outstanding dramatic actor in films and television. Here, he assumes the voice of a ten-year old boy, Bud, with charm and authenticity. This set of three cassettes offers another feature that contributes beautifully to the overall effect of the narration: background jazz music included at the conclusions of some chapters. Appropriate to themes and characters of the book - jazz of the Depression years, the music is never intrusive, nor does it seem simply "stuck in." Rather, it is subtle and a little sultry, simply suggesting a little sweet sadness.

I often ask students to offer ideas for background music for various young adult novels we are sharing. They are able to choose appropriate groups or composers or works that coordinate well with themes, characters, tones, styles of various books. The selection of music in this fashion simply helps forward the discussion and invites students to explore the art of the novel a bit more than they might otherwise, focusing on the literary aspects of the book that they and their students can discover together. On this audio version of Bud, Not Buddy , the producer's selection of the music is indeed appropriate. It is not music most middle schoolers are used to, but it helps create the atmosphere Curtis creates with words.

This audio version of Bud, Not Buddy also includes at the end of the third cassette, some comments by author Christopher Paul Curtis, the author. These notes offer valuable information about the author's writing process and, in particular, the way he uses his own experience in an historical context during a period which he could not have lived. His comments are useful in helping students comprehend historical fiction as a genre and appreciate how an author works, using his own genuine feelings and insights in constructing a narrative set in another time.

Curtis also takes this opportunity to speak of his research into books about the Depression and the jazz scene of preWWII America in Michigan. He regrets that as a young person himself he failed to listen well to the stories of his elders and urges young people today to listen to those stories, interview those elders, and write down their stories. Many students already do this kind of thing as teachers encourage them, but many remain who need to hear the advice. The teachers I worked with especially appreciated this advice for their student writers.

Schedule and Timing

Once we had selected our audio-book, we considered how much time hearing the story would take and what kind of response activities we would plan. First, we determined the length of a listening session, given the attention spans of middle school students. The entire time on the audio version of the book is 3 hours and 38 minutes. We decided that approximately 20-25 minutes would be appropriate for a listening session, depending on where chapters began and ended and not wanting to stop mid-sentence or mid-paragraph. Using this rule of thumb, then, we divided the book into fifteen segments.

With a daily 2 hour block for language arts (reading, writing, and assorted other language content) and a 9-week grading period, it's easy to see how, along with other aspects of the curriculum and the usual intrusions and interruptions, the book might be heard in 3 weeks (I segment per day) or in 8 weeks (2 segments per week). Chances are that once stundents get involved in the story, they may want to speed up the schedule. And some students may have difficulty reading their own choice books at the same time they are listening to the common reading on tape. Each teacher will gauge the extent to which students have difficulty in distinguishing between two stories. This possible confusion can be diminished with various response and sharing activities. Or a teacher might suspend the choice reading during the time the class concentrates on the audio-book, the common reading.

Week 1 Segment 1 - Chapter 1 (10 min.)
Chapter 2 (15 min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 3 (11 min.)
Chapter 4 (5 min.)
Week 2 Segment 1 - Chapter 5 (11 min.)
Chapter 6 (9½ min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 7 (8 min.)
half of Chapter 8 (19 min.)
Week 3 Segment 1 - 2 nd half of Chapter 8 (19 min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 9 (10 min.)
Chapter 10 (14 min.)
Week 4 Segment 1 - Chapter 11 (27 ½ min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 12 (25 min.)
Week 5 Segment 1 - Chapter 13 (14 min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 14 (18 min.)
Week 6 Segment 1 - Chapter 15 (11 min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 16 (17 min.)
Chapter 17 (7 min.)
Week 7 Segment 1 - Chapter 18 (12 min.)
Segment 2 - Chapter 19 (27 min.)
Week 8 Segment by Christopher Curtis and song (7 min.)

This suggested listening schedule could be sped up or slowed down depending on the needs of students. Listening to fewer than 2 segments per week, though, stretches the book out far too long. As many as 3, even 4 segments per week might be appropriate for some groups of students.

Above, I mentioned that some students might have difficulty keeping separate the book they are listening to with the class and a book they might be reading on their own for workshop. One way to help students distinguish their stories' reading is to utilize the response journal in a different way than it is routinely used by students to keep track of their workshop reading. In these teachers' classes, the students record their reading: number of pages read each day, write brief initial responses and questions, and make comparisons with other books they have read or experiences in their own lives. With some variations, this generic pattern remains the same for all readings. The teachers report that students do get bored with the routine.

Pre-reading Reflections

On the day before beginning our listening-reading experience with Bud, Not Buddy , the teacher invites students to address 2 pre-reading prompts in their journals. These prompts (with choices provided) encourage students to make personal connections with the main character in the book and selected themes in the book. As everyone knows, such pre-reading reflections may assist students in focusing on this particular book rather than the myriad other materials that are bombarding them from other classes, from home, and from life outside school. Choices for the written pre-reading journal entry include the following: 1) Write about your name and what you like about it or what you don't like about it. Write about what you like to be called if you don't like your name. Write about bow you would change your name if you could. Perhaps you would like to keep your name as it is. Why? OR: 2) Write about a time when you felt lonely. Describe your feelings and how you coped with the loneliness. OR: 3) Write about a time when you were the only person your age surrounded by older people. What was the situation, and bow did you relate to the adults around you?

How did you feel? Students choose to write on only one of these prompts, whichever one they prefer.

The second journal entry is to be a drawing which can be a detailed drawing, a cartoon-like illustration, or a sketchy representation using stick figures, lines and boxes. There is no premium placed on artistic ability, only the effort to represent a place pictorially. Students could use color or not as they wish.

The two choices for the non-verbal pre-reading prompts are as follows: 1) Draw a sketch of a place where you were once frightened. Think of all the things that made the place scary. Think about the situation, and add as many details as you can think of. Put as much in your drawing as you can. OR: 2) Using a page in your notebook, make a sketch of the most wonderful place you can imagine. Think of everything that you would have in this great place. Put yourself and anyone else you like in the picture and all the things you would like to have there. Your picture can be in color or not and in any style you like .

Listening and Responding

Once the listening to the book has begun, students might respond to a set number of prompts along the way. The first and the last prompt offered here must be seen as a pair. Together they create a framework for the listening experience, Taken together, these 2 prompts provide an opportunity for students to test their predicting skills. Teachers can then choose or allow students to choose a specified number of prompts to address within that framework. With 24 suggested prompts there is plenty of choice available.

Framework Prompt - After hearing Chapters 1 and 2, write a journal entry about how you think Bud escapes from the shed. And write about whether/how he finds his father.

Prompt 1 - Write about what you think of Bud's Rule # 3 ["If you've got to tell a lie, make sure it's simple and easy to remember."] According to Bud, when is it okay to lie? In your mind, when is it okay to lie?

Prompt 2 - Describe the Amos home and the family. Write about what you think a foster home should be like. Prompt 3 - Using only pencil (it doesn't have to be a Ticonderoga), draw your idea of the shed Bud is locked into. How much does he imagine?

Prompt 4 - Make a list of your belongings you would put in one small suitcase if you had to leave home suddenly. How does your list compare with the things Bud has in his suitcase?

Prompt 5 - In Chapter 5, Bud remembers his Momma and says she is "like a tornado." Write about how Bud's mother could be like a tornado. Also, write about your parent, grandparent, or other caregiver by using an element of nature that you think is appropriate.

Prompt 6 - Find a picture in a-magazine that makes you think of someone special in your life. Cut out the picture and paste it in your journal. Under the picture, write about a memory you have of that person.

Prompt 7 - Write about the meaning behind Bud's name.

Prompt 8 - Bud's Rule # 83 states "If adults tell you not to worry and you weren't worried before, you better hurry up and start 'cause you're already runnin' late." Write about how much people in your life tell you not to worry. And make a list of things you worry about.

Prompt 9 - Bud is treated very kindly by several characters he meets up with in the story. Start a list here after hearing Chapter 6 about the characters who treat him well. Mention what they do for him that is kind. You might add to this list as you hear the remainder of the book.

Prompt 10 - Make a sketch of the outside and the inside of the library. Then after listening to Chapter 7, write about how the library is like one that you visit. hearing Chapters 1 and 2.

Prompt 11 - In Chapter 8, Bugs and Bud find their way to Hooverville, a cardboard city, a shanty-town for rail riders during the Depression. After hearing this chapter, make a sketch of Hooverville.

Prompt 12 - Chapter 8 contains several ideas about family. Write about how these ideas compare with your own thoughts about family.

Prompt 13 - In Chapter 8, Bud experiences his first kiss with a girl named Deza Malone, and cements his brother-like relationship with Bugs, and he is more determined than ever to find his father. After listening to this chapter, write about what you think will happen next.

Prompt 15 - Write about how reading affects you. Consider listening to an audio-book and having someone read to you. Prompt 16 - After hearing Chapter 9, find in your library or on the Internet a map of the state of Michigan. Check Bud's facts about distances.

Prompt 17 - After hearing Chapters 10, 11, and 12, go back to your list of characters who were kind to Bud. See if you can add to the list now. Think about what all these characters have in common.

Prompt 18 - A couple of times in the story, Bud says that he doesn't cry anymore. How can he control his tears? Write about how you control your tears.

Prompt 19 - Draw a sketch of the musicians sitting around the table at the Log Cabin. Or draw a sketch of the room Bud is taken to sleep for the night at Calloway Central Station.

Prompt 20 - In Chapter 14, Bud finally cries at supper at the Sweet Pea Restaurant where Miss Thomas comforts him. Write about how Bud feels about crying in this scene. Write about when you feel comfortable enough with someone to cry.

Prompt 21 - You have seen it plenty before, but after listening to Chapter 15, you have a great idea of Bud's imagination. List some of the situations in which his imagination has worked over time. What makes Bud like this? Compare his imagination with yours.

Prompt 22 - In Chapter 16, Bud gets a new family, a new home, and, to top it off, a new name. Write about Bud's new name and the names of all the musicians. How much do you like them? What are your friends' nicknames?

Prompt 23 - What do you think about Sleepy LaBone's introduction to making music. Write about your connections to music. If you play an instrument or sing, tell about that. What does music add to your life?

Prompt 24 - In Chapter 18, some ordinary little rocks bring Bud and Herman Caldwell, his grandfather, together. Bud comes to understand his grandfather. Write about how Bud helps both Herman and Miss Thomas? Collect some smooth, flat rocks of your own, and with a fine marker write on them each place that you can remember that you have been and the dates if you can remember. Or draw these rocks in your journal. Pick the rock that stands for your favorite place, and write about that place.

Final Framework Prompt - At the conclusion of the last tape, write about how the story ended compared with how you thought it might end when you wrote your first entry after

Unity and Extension

By the time the tapes are completed, students will have participated in a nice variety of writing and drawing activities. They will have shared their entries with the class or in small groups. The framework prompts will have helped to unify the listening and responding experiences. If teachers wish, they can extend the listening experience by inviting a class to do the kind of "book" research that author Curtis reports on the tape. Students could learn more about jazz of the 1930s, the origins and nature of unions, and the status of African-Americans in the 30s. Turning this listening/responding experience into a full-blown interdisciplinary unit could be rich and informative for students. On the other hand, this expansion might stretch things out too much, beyond the ability of students to stay focused. In other words, it might be overkill and might, in fact, "kill" the story. Whatever we do, we don't want to kill this wonderful book. Teachers will gauge the best alternative for their students.

Using an audio-book, though, such as Bud, Not Buddy , provides a rare listening experience - a fine story, well-performed and beautifully produced. Surrounding the listening with stimulating and relevant writing, drawing, and sharing opportunities can expand students' abilities to respond, can help them develop their listening, reading, and writing skills, and can enhance wholistic learning for all.

Reference Citation: Kiser, Marjorie M. (2000) "Non-Print YA Literature Connection Bud, Not Buddy: Common Reading, Uncommon Listening." The ALAN Review , Volume 27, Number 3, p. 40-44.