Activity 9:
What was it REALLY like?

Lefty Lewis and Herman E. Calloway are just two of the many interesting characters created by Christopher Paul Curtis for Bud, Not Buddy. The Afterword of the book (page 237-243) discusses how Curtis got the ideas for the book. Although many of the characters are fictional, some are based on real people.

What was the Great Depression really like? The author challenges readers to talk to older people about their lives. He says that "by keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal." Cool!


Explore fictional characters based on real people. Create a fictional character and story based on a real person and event. Incorporate authentic facts and/or photos into the story.

Process and Resources

  1. Compare the information found in the Afterword with some information found on the Internet. Create a chart showing the characters that are fictional and the characters that are based on real people. Use arrows to link the characters together.
    1. Random House - Christopher Paul Curtis (newest)
    2. Random House - Christopher Paul Curtis
    3. Author follows Newbery Honor with new novel for young readers - CNN
  2. Is there anything else you'd like to know about the author or his characters? Write a short letter, then email it to Christopher Paul Curtis.
  3. Let's write a story that includes a real person from the Great Depression. In order to write a story that contains information about a person, you'll need to do an interview to find out what their life was like in the 1930s.
  4. Start by reading some oral histories that have been collected by other people. An oral history is a collection of stories told by people about their past.
  5. Learn to collect your own oral histories. Use the Hard Times site to look for interview questions. You could even join their project and share your interviews. Use the 42eXplore: Oral History links for more ideas.
  6. Once you've collected information about a person, you're still not ready to write your story. You may need to collect information about an event, occupation, or place during the 1930s. For example, if Christopher Curtis wanted to write a whole book about Lefty's experience playing Negro League Baseball he might use the following websites. Use the 42eXplore: Depression links for ideas.
  7. Bud's mom remembered sitting on a pony for a photograph. Do you remember an experience where your picture was taken? What about your parents, grandparents, or great grantparents? Go through your photo album and discuss the setting of different pictures. You might even use a picture as part of your story. For family member or friend may even have artifacts (real objects) from the time period such as magazine covers, cloth, coins, postcards or ticket stubs. You can create a collage of these using a computer scanner. Simply lay the items on the scanner tray.

Project Guidelines

Use the following guidelines for your oral history story:

  • Be prepared for the interview by creating a list of good questions.
  • Use a tape recorder to help record the interview. Take good notes.
  • Use facts from the interview to create a character and write a story.
  • Use the scanner to create a digital collage using photos and real objects. The objects should represent the person and time period of interest. Carefully overlap the objects so they can be seen and are balanced. Consider the brightness and contrast of the picture.
  • Create a web page to share your story with others.


Share the web page with the person you interviewed. If possible include scanned or photocopied artifacts and pictures in your story.

Teacher Resources
Student Resources

Developed by Annette Lamb, 3/00.