Article

Christopher Paul Curtis Interview Transcript

  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Christopher Paul Curtis was a featured author in Scholastic's Online Reading Club, where students and teachers discussed his books Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963. Then Christopher Paul Curtis himself joined in the conversation. Bud, Not Buddy won the 2000 Newbery Medal, and The Watsons Go To Birmingham won Newbery Honor in 1996.

Let's Talk With Christopher Paul Curtis:

About Bud, Not Buddy

Discussion Question:
Why was Bud's name so important to him? How do you feel when people change your name?

  • Student Response: I don't like when I'm called anything but my name. It's important to me, and I can feel why it was important to him. His name is Bud. Is that what his birth certificate would say? I think so! So nobody really has the right to call you anything you don't want to be called if it isn't on your birth certificate.
  • Student Response: Bud's name was important because he didn't want to be called by a different name because he would probably feel like a different person.
  • Student Response: Hi, my name is Melissa and I am a student in Ms. Velasquez's class. Bud's name was important to him because he really liked his name. He was an orphan and was treated badly. He would get furious at everyone who would call him Buddy. I don't really feel anything bad about people saying my name wrong if it is a mistake. I would get mad if they were saying my name wrong to tease me. Then I would get angry.
  • Student Response: Maybe Bud got mad because he doesn't have a friend, and he's by himself. You call a friend “bud.”
  • Student Response: His mom died and she told him that his name is Bud, not Buddy. He always wants it to be Bud so he can remember his mom.
  • Student Response: Hi, my name is Christine. I live in Philadelphia. His name was important to him because his mom said, “that's a dog's name.” I wouldn't mind if somebody called me Chrissy.
  • Student Response: The reason why Bud does not appreciate being called Buddy is because people said that it was a dog name.
  • Student Response: I think Bud's name was so important because his mom said, “Buddy is a dog's name.”

Discussion Question:
If you made rules for yourself the way Bud did, what would some of them be?

  • Student Response: I actually do make rules for myself to follow. I have some that are just like Bud's. I think it's important to set yourself some silly ones like Bud's and some real ones like some of his too. That way you can get used to following rules.
  • Student Response: My name is Christine, and I'm in Ms. Velasquez's class. The rules I would have for myself would be 1) Be a good person. 2) If somebody doesn't know about it, don't tell him or her about it. 3) Have respect for yourself.
  • Student Response: If I made rules for myself like Bud did, they would be for if I became angry. I would go to my room and hide under my covers to calm myself.
  • Student Response: Hello, My name is Brandi. I live in Philadelphia PA and here are some of my rules: 1) Be the best person you can be even if you do not want to be 2) Do not let peer pressure influence you to do bad things 3) keep your head up even in the worst situations.
  • Student Response: To whom it may concern,
    We would add the rule to treat others the way that you would like to be treated.
    Thank you,
    Ms. West's class
    Williams Elementary
    Gainesville, FL
  • Student Response: My rule would be that when someone tries to wake you up, pretend you are still asleep. You won't ever get your rest if you let them know you're awake. They'll go away if you pretend to be asleep.

Discussion Question:
Although she died when Bud was six, in what ways is Bud's mother present throughout the book?

  • Student Response: Bud talks about her and the picture a lot. But one of the most important things that makes her present throughout the whole book is that he is almost trying to piece together a mystery of his mother, one in which she covered the pieces too.
  • Student Response: To whom it may concern,
    Although she died when Bud was six, Bud's mother is present throughout the book because she is with him all the time in his heart. He is always thinking about her and he talks to her in his mind.
    Thank you,
    Ms. West's class
    Williams Elementary
    Gainesville, FL
  • Student Response: He remembered her. The blue flyers reminded Bud of her. Everyone asks Bud where his mother is. He has to tell them. She taught him how to behave. He had manners. His mother had to have taught him that.

Discussion Question:
Were you surprised to learn who Herman C. Calloway really was? How do you think he will treat Bud after the end of the book?

  • Student Response: I was really surprised actually. I really thought it would be his dad or maybe his uncle. I don't know why I didn't think of grandfather. But I think his grandfather is extremely grateful for all this, enough to make his temper be gone forever. He will love Bud forever, too. I could kind of feel myself in his position. I know he will love him.
  • Student Response: To whom it may concern:
    We were very surprised to learn that Herman C. Calloway was really Bud's grandfather. We think that Bud will find out who his dad is now. We also believe that Herman C. Calloway will treat Bud better than he treated his daughter because he doesn't want Bud to leave.
    Thank you,
    Ms. West's class
    Williams Elementary
    Gainesville, FL
  • Student Response: I wasn't surprised to see that Herman E. Calloway was Bud's grandpa because although he looked very old to Bud, I thought he was related to Bud somehow, because they thought the same way. I think Herman will treat Bud like his son because he doesn't have a son and because he loved his daughter a lot and Bud was Janet's son.
  • Student Response: Hi! My name is Todd. I live in China. I am twelve years old. Here is my answer for the question. I was very surprised when knew who Herman was because I thought he acted a lot like Bud.
    Bye!
  • Student Response: I wasn't surprised that Herman was Bud's grandpa because in the book he said he was old and had wrinkles on his forehead. It's hard to say how Herman is going to treat Bud because the book just tells you that Herman cries and cries through the whole end of the book when he finds out what Bud's name is, but I think that Herman will be very nice.

More Questions about Bud, Not Buddy

  • Student Question: Will you write a sequel to Bud, not Buddy? Thank you.
    Christopher Paul Curtis: I'm planning on doing several things with BNB. The thing I'll do first is to write a story about Deza Malone, do you remember her in the story? I want to write from her point of view on what life was like in the 1930s. I'm not sure if I'll ever do a sequel to Bud, but I probably will. Thanks.
  • Student Question: Did you have any input into who narrated your audio book Bud, Not Buddy? If so, how did you choose the speaker, because he was perfect. It was like you were really there with the characters.
    Christopher Paul Curtis: Not really, but I'm very happy with the job that James Avery did.

About The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963

Discussion Question:
In some ways Byron seems mean, especially to Kenny. How does he show that he actually cares about his family and others?

  • Student Response: Byron seems mean to Kenny because he's the BIG brother and sometimes, older siblings tend to act like that. Then towards the end of the book, Byron realizes that being the big brother has responsibilities. Byron shows that he cares by sticking up for Kenny when Larry Dunn stole his gloves. He also shows it when he comforts Kenny when he's down.
  • Student Response: I think that he expresses his care for his family by sticking up for/helping Kenny. For example, when Kenny's gloves are taken by Larry Dunn, Byron is sure to get them back one way or another. Also, at the end of the book, the last chapter displays the love that Byron has for his family when he allows Kenny to “let out” his grief in his arms. He comforts Kenny and helps him to better understand what went on towards the conclusion of the book. To me, that really shows the compassion that he feels towards the rest of the Watsons.
  • Student Response: He doesn't let anyone really pick on Kenny. He talks to his family. He listens to his mom and dad sometimes. Byron tells Kenny and Joey things that aren't true to make them listen so they don't get hurt.
  • Student Response: I think that he shows that he cares about his family by actually helping them when they need help. When Kenny almost drowned, Byron saved him. When Kenny was shocked by what happened in Birmingham, Byron was there to cheer him up. He always looks out for Joey and tells his parents not to worry about Kenny. Even though he never shows it, he really cares about his family.
  • Student Response: The way that Byron shows he cares for his family is when Kenny almost drowns, he pulls him out and starts to kiss him and hug him. And when Kenny was sick, Byron sleeps by him.
  • Student Response: I think Byron cares about his family, but he is just too embarrassed to show it.
  • Student Response: Byron shows that he is caring by trying to defend his family, and even though he is not perfect himself, he tries to keep them from making mistakes and getting harmed. Byron's methods are not the most compassionate, but he shows his love and care in his own special way without being very emotional.

Discussion Question:
What do you think was the “Wool Pooh” in the water? What was it in the church?

  • Student Response: I think the “Wool Pooh” in the water was Kenny's image of death. When he thought he was going to drown he saw death coming for him. In the church I think it was death. Four girls died in the church and the “Wool Pooh,” being Kenny's image of death, came to get them. The “Wool Pooh” is only an image to Kenny. No one else sees it because it's not really there.
  • Student Response: I think the “Wool Pooh” was Kenny's way of seeing death. It was probably just something Kenny made up in his mind. He put together what Byron told him and what he thought of death and came up with the image of the “Wool Pooh.”
  • Student Response: I think the “Wool Pooh” was a vision in Kenny's mind. He probably thought something was pulling him down because he was losing air. The loss of oxygen was the “Wool Pooh.” In the church, the “Wool Pooh” was probably the bomb. The bomb also scared Kenny.
  • Student Response: I at first thought, in the water, that the “Wool-Pooh” was just something Kenny kind of imagined but then realized it was a whirlpool. But I also think that the “Wool Pooh” in both places was kind of a symbol of death!!
  • Student Response: The “Wool Pooh” in the water was probably a whirlpool, but Kenny thought it was a mean monster that was trying to kill him. So maybe he thinks the “Wool Pooh” goes around trying to kill other people too, and that's why it was in the church looking for people as victims. But I don't think it was actually there, but death was. It's like a metaphor.

Discussion Question:
How did you feel when you read about the church bombing? Did you know about this event before?

  • Student Response: I felt as though my heart had a hole it in, even though I have read and seen many passages and news clips about the event.
  • Student Response: I felt very sad because I though Joetta was dead, but she was not. If she had died it would have been unfair because Joetta was a really nice girl. She didn't mess or bother anyone, but it still is really bad because two little girls did die. I did not know about this event before, but I would like to know what really happened.
  • Student Response: I felt bad because the children didn't have anything to do with it. Why would that person do it?
  • Student Response: I felt sad because it's not right to kill. All you need to do is stand for justice and everything will be all right.
  • Student Response: When I read about the church bombing, I thought about the bombing in New York. It made me feel upset.
  • Student Response: The thought that some one would actually kill a lot of girls just because they're black makes me cry inside. I never knew that someone did that. I also never even in my worst dreams thought that someone would even think of doing that.
  • Student Response: I did know that there was a church bombing back in the day that claimed the lives of four little girls. My dad was educating me on a lot of little things that happened between blacks and whites. When I read about it in the story, it really did hurt because of the fact that there was so much hate between people that it got serious enough to actually kill innocent kids.
  • Student Response: I had already known about the bombing and thought it was really sad that someone would do something like that. When I read about in the book I wanted to be able to help Kenny cope with what he had just seen, but I couldn't. Later I realized that I wouldn't even know how to handle myself in a situation like that. It's really sad that everyone had to go through that. I have sincere sympathy for those who were in someway affected by the church bombing.

Discussion Question:
How do you think the family had changed at the end of the story?

  • Student Response: I think they love each other more than before, knowing that their sister could have been in that church bombing. Now they care about each other more and watch out for each other more. And now they don't fight as much as they use to.
  • Student Response: I think they became a better, stronger, more united family in their own individual way.
  • Student Response: Kenny got quieter and acted real weird. Byron got nicer and started to hang out with Kenny more. Momma and Dad talked about things more because they all got scared that Joetta could have died in the church and because they were also concerned about Kenny. They all pretty much changed because of the awful things that happened in Birmingham.
  • Student Response: I think the family changed a lot because by the end of the book, Byron was more respectful and kinder to Kenny. Kenny had learned to accept himself, and they were all a lot closer and had a greater appreciation for their family, home, and life itself.
  • Student Response: I think that the family changed at the end of the story because Kenny and Byron changed roles. Byron was more mature and more responsible and Kenny was more like a daredevil.
  • Student Response: After seeing the terrible church bombing in Alabama, the Watsons were probably more grateful for what they had. They appreciated each other more.

More Questions about The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963

  • Student Question: Did you use your family pictures for the cover of The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: That's my Mom and Dad and my little sister, Cydney. I don't know who the two boys are!
  • Student Question: Do you ever visit Birmingham? Do you think it has changed?
    Christopher Paul Curtis:Yes, Jake, as a matter of fact I'm leaving for Birmingham today! I'm visiting two schools there. I had never gone there before The Watsons was written though, I learned about the city through research in the library.
  • Student Question: How did you get the idea to give Kenny a lazy eye? Did you use your childhood experiences as ideas for writing when you wrote The Watsons Go to Birminham-1963 or Bud, Not Buddy? Do any of Kenny or Byron's friends resemble your childhood friends?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: Kenny's lazy eye is really a metaphor for the way Kenny is very introspective and questioning. Yes, a lot of my childhood experiences made it into the book, (Dinosaur thief, Nazi Parachutes, a lot of the interactions of the family.)
    Yes, LJ Jones, Rufus, Larry Dunn.
  • Student Question: We know you are writing a sequel to Bud, Not Buddy, but we want to read more about the Watsons! Have you ever considered writing a sequel to The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: I don't think so just yet. Some books don't really lend themselves to sequels. I might give the Watsons a nice long break.
  • Student Question: Why was Kenny telling the story? When you were little did you ever dream of being an author? Did you ever meet another author?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: We couldn't trust Byron to tell the story so Kenny had to do it. No, I never thought I'd be an author. I've met many, many famous authors, including Walter Dean Myers, Jackie Woodson and JK Rowling.
  • Student Question: How do you feel about the bombing and the death of the four little girls? Would you have saved the little girls from dying or would you have just got yourself out of the fire?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: Cierra, I felt terrible. Yes, I would've tried to save the girls. They had done nothing wrong.
  • Student Question: What made you want to add the part in your story about the four little girls?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: Tyrice, I think it is important to remember the girls and that they didn't die for nothing. I think we have to keep in mind that they died to go to school and we have to be more serious about school and studies to honor their memory.
  • Student Question: I just wanted to know what made you want to write the book The Watsons Go To Birmingham?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: I love writing and my wife gave me a year off work to make a book.
  • Student Question: What was the Wool Pooh in the church?
    Christopher Paul Curtis: The Wool Pooh was a figment of Kenny's imagination. He didn't want to see the bodies of the little girls so instead he saw the Wool Pooh.

General Questions for Christopher Paul Curtis

  • Dear Christopher Paul Curtis, What influenced you to write? Do you have any other friends who are writers? If you could have a different job what would it be?
    Hey West-ers,
    I love writing, I do it as often as I can and get a very good feeling from writing. Since I've become a writer I have met and made friends with a lot of other authors, Gary Paulsen, Chris Crutcher, Graham Salisbury, Jackie Woodson, Lois Lowry, Pat Giff, John Coy to name a few.
  • Dear Christopher Paul Curtis, We were wondering if you went to college. If you did, where did you go to school? If you didn't, how did you learn to write so well?
    Thank you! I did go to the University of Michigan, Flint, but I don't think you need classes to learn to write. What you need to do is read a lot and of course, write a lot.
  • What's next? You have mentioned a new book in the works, when will it become a reality? Bud and The Watsons are both delightful pieces - I hated it when I reached the end! My class is screaming for MORE!
    Hello Robin,
    Thank you very much! My next book, Bucking the Sarge, will be out in September of this year. I'm working on a book now called Elijah of Buxton and I am absolutely loving it. BTS took about four years to finish; this one will take no more than six months. I love sitting down everyday and finding out what happens next in the book!
  • Are the books written with any of your personal experience, or with your experiences?
    Dear Alexus,
    Writing is so much fun because as authors we (you and I and other people who write) can use our imaginations, we can take things that happen to us and we can take things that happen to other people and we can make stories about them! I do all three, in The Watsons there is a lot of similarity to some of the things that happen to Kenny and By and the things that happened to me.
  • Dear Christopher Paul Curtis, What advice can you give to young writers?
    I always give three bits of advice to young writers:
  1. Write everyday — writing's like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
  2. Have fun when you write — when you write you are in control of everything! You can create and destroy worlds, you can be strong or beautiful or anything else that you'd like to be. Enjoy this power!
  3. Ignore all advice — That doesn't mean ignore your teacher's advice about writing, because it is very important that you learn the basics. Once you have mastered the basics you can and must develop your own style. That's when you ignore the rules.
How long have you been writing? I've been writing professionally for almost ten years now, I've been writing for nearly my whole life, as I'm sure most of you have been. Did you grow up in Flint, Michigan? Yes. Flint is my hometown. I live in Windsor, Ontario, Canada now. Which of you two books is your favorite? Hey Mrs. Z's readers, I think I like The Watsons better. It was my first book and very special to me. Did you or your family ever experience the ill effects of segregation or discrimination? I think almost all African American children in the United States have experienced racism and bigotry. It was much more blatant and out in the open back in the 60s, but it still exists. I want to know if you like being an author? Do you like your job? Please write a sequel to The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963.Quentin, I have the best job in the world. Anytime you can make a living doing something you love you are very lucky. I am very, very, very lucky! How did it feel when you were writing the book?Darrius, it felt great. I love telling stories and I had a lot of fun. Christopher, how old are you? Christopher, where do you live?I'm the same age as my tongue and a little older than my teeth! I live in Canada. Will you write another book? My next book, Bucking The Sarge will be out in September and I'm writing another one called Elijah of Buxton. Who really influenced you to be an author? My wife was the biggest influence. Our teacher showed us pictures of you on the Internet. We saw one picture of you with long hair and one picture of you with short hair. We were wondering if you wear it long or short now. (We think you look cool with long hair!) Dear Mrs Z's Class, My hair is still in locks. There's not a whole lot of it left but it's still long. How long did it take you to write this book?The Watsons and Bud each took a year. Is there a way we can write you letters about your books? We love them. Thank you, Tucker. Yes Tucker, Thank you! Send all letters to the publisher in the front of the book, they send them on to me.

Thank you very much for your great posts and responses and questions, I've really enjoyed reading them!
Christopher Curtis

top