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Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton
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Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  4,582 ratings  ·  387 reviews
Matt Phelan, graphic novelist extraordinaire, presents a rollicking tribute to vaudeville, small-town dreams, and Buster Keaton as a boy.

In the summer of 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They’re summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra,
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published July 23rd 2013 by Candlewick Press
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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,582 ratings  ·  387 reviews

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David Schaafsma
I love this lovely watercolor trip back to Muskegon, Michigan, about an hour and a half from where I grew up in Grand Rapids. Holland and Grand Haven were the places I went to get to Lake Michigan from GR, and my parents had a summer home north of Muskegon in Ludington, but I rarely went there, so I wasn't familiar with Bluffton as an area of that town, nor did I know that in 1908 Buster Keaton, his family and a troupe of vaudevillians summered there. This historical fiction for tweens or YA may ...more
Nicola Mansfield
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I keep reading Phelan's books because they *sound* interesting and I like his art but have found the others just OK and didn't really expect to be reading him anymore, however the historical theme grabbed my attention once again and the Buster Keaton story pulled me right in this time. I love reading about the era of the silent movies and ended up really enjoying this book. The book is actually about Keaton's childhood in vaudeville before he became a movie star and is related through the eyes o ...more
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Matt Phelan has been one of my favorites authors and graphic novelist since reading the graphic novel about life during the Dust Bowl, "The Storm in the Barn" and the delightful picture book entitled "Flora's Very Windy Day."
I wasn't expecting to read "Bluffton" today, but I am so glad that I did. I cried at the end, and that is without even knowing anything about Buster Keaton or his life. The story follows a young Buster during three of his summers in Muskegon, Michigan. The narrator of the s
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
I actually forgot this was about Buster Keaton until I was pretty far into the book (the subtitle's not on the cover - just the title page). Which, I think, worked to the books advantage.

It's a relatively chill story about a kid growing up in Michigan, who meets a bunch of vaudeville performers taking their break at a retreat center on the (great) lake. There are some darker themes, but most of it is pretty relaxed. Or, at least, I relaxed after I realized the impetus for the story.

Beautiful i
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Extreme Buster Keaton Fans
I am not giving this book two stars because it is bad. But I don't like books in which the goal is to educate someone about a real-life person. Buster Keaton is a real-life person. This book is like a graphic novel historical fiction of Buster Keaton. Ick.

If I want to read a biography on Buster Keaton, I'll do that. Inventing a fictional character and making Buster Keaton his best summer friend just annoys me.

The artwork is nothing to write home about.
Cindy Dobrez
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: graphic-novels
I did not know that Buster Keaton vacationed in my neighboring town as a kid. Check out the full review of the book with photos of Bookends' trip to Bluffton to walk in Keaton's footsteps. Phelan's graphic novel is the perfect vehicle for this story of summers on the Lake Michigan shoreline in the early 1900s.
Edward Sullivan
Jul 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
A delightful, engaging story beginning 1908 about vaudevillians who come to a Michigan resort town to relax for the summer, including a young Buster Keaton who is honing his craft.
Dorinda Davie
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Matt Phelan has done an amazing job in his graphic novel of famous vaudeville actor Buster Keaton. Although his character, Henry Harrison, is a fictional boy, the vaudevillians summering in Bluffton, Michigan, at The Actors’ Colony was not. Henry meets the performers the summer of 1908 and although he is impressed with Buster, he realizes that Buster and another performer, Lex, have more similiarities than differences. Henry would like Buster to teach him some of his tricks but Buster is more in ...more
Teresa Scherping Moulton
Henry is in awe when he sees a group of vaudeville performers, including an elephant and a zebra, pass through his town of Muskegon, Michigan one summer. The year is 1908 and the performers are staying in nearby Bluffton as a vacation from the exciting vaudeville circuit. Henry becomes friends with some of the kids in the group, including the famous comic actor Buster Keaton. Henry wishes he could have a wild and interesting life like Buster, instead of going to school and helping in his father' ...more
Feb 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I really enjoy Matt Phelan's books. I think they are wonderful slices of life. I appreciate the minimal text and lovely illustrations. Bluffton is the story of Henry and his summers spent with Buster Keaton. It seems Keaton and other vaudeville acts summer at Bluffton and fictional Henry was able to get to know them a bit. Henry wasn't happy working in his dad's store and really wanted to do more with his life. Unfortunately, Buster never shows him any tricks and just wants to hang out and play ...more
Wayne McCoy
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels
Bluffton is the story of Henry, a young boy, growing up near Bluffton, Minnesota during the early years of the 20th Century. Every year a group of Vaudeville performers would spend the summer there. Henry befriends the children of the performers, including a young Buster Keaton.

Buster's father, Joe, is hounded for including his children in his act, and it's a constant sore point. Buster is a quiet, reflective child who just wants to play baseball. Henry is enamored with the showbiz life and year
Not a lot seems to happen in Henry's Muskegon, Michigan, hometown. But the summer of 1908 is different. Once a troupe of vaudeville performers arrive to vacation for the summer in Bluffton, a nearby neighborhood, Henry spends every free moment getting to know the animals and hanging out with the boys, one of whom is Buster Keaton, known for his "ability to take a fall better than anyone alive (p. 35) with a deadpan expression, his pranks, and his engineering feats. While Henry longs to learn som ...more
Mar 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I confess that as I proud Michigander I'm a little more than just excited about this book because it does such a lovely job of evoking the joy and seemingly endless days of sun and fun that summers on Lake Michigan and environs can be like as a child. The historical factoids and atmosphere just enhance story. The artwork is gorgeous, and highly detailed. I am not always a fan of completely wordless books, but this book does a wonderful job of using the wordless sections to express passage of tim ...more
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A graphic historical fiction novel that narrates a young boy's summers in the company of young Buster Keaton and the vaudeville troupe he was part of. I felt as intrigued as young Henry, the story's main character, about the vaudevillians, and was moved by both boys' coming-of-age, discovering how each of them found their place and path in life. I appreciated the beautiful pencil and watercolor illustrations and the scarcity of text and wasn't surprised that the book was named one of the best bo ...more
Penny Peck
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-ya
Phelan's graphic novels are uniquely suited to use in classrooms, because his subject matter is often historical fiction, but they are also wonderful recreational reading. His newest, BLUFFTON, is set in the early 1900's, in Michigan, where vaudevillians spend their summer vacation. One of the actors is ten-year-old Buster Keaton, who the narrator (a local boy) befriends. It won't matter that most tweens won't know who Keaton was; the book is more about the narrator's yearning for something outs ...more
I've read through each of Phelan's graphic novels now and really enjoy them all. He has a great talent for weaving an interesting fictional story into American history almost without knowing it's there. I picked up this book without reading the description and totally thought it was about an elephant or the circus based off the cover. It turned out to be a fictional retelling of Buster Keaton's childhood which was really interesting! He includes several interesting details such as the Keatons' t ...more
Colona Public Library
I am a sucker for is a coming of age summer time stories, so I naturally immediately grew attached to this book. There is something about summer that is so magic and this book captures it really well. This is about a young boy romanticizing the vaudeville and wanting the lifestyle. He easily makes friends with their kids when they come to relax each summer. This is a pretty powerful summer story with a very beautiful watercolor art style. I was also surprised that this is a historical fiction of ...more
Dec 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
The narrator of this graphic novel recounts a couple of summers in Muskegon, Michigan where he befriended Buster Keaton who was one of several vaudeville performers who summered at the Actors' Colony at Bluffton. Although the story is a work of fiction, I discovered that this Actors' Colony - founded by Buster's dad, Joe - existed and that the Keatons spent many summers there. It was an interesting look at a little-known (at least to me) part of Michigan history and Keaton's childhood. It also m ...more
Katie Lawrence
Nov 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a lovely, gentle graphic novel about 1908 Bluffton, a community for vaudeville performers in Muskegon, Michigan. I enjoyed the use of Henry, a fictional character and Muskegonite, as narrator because he revealed an outsider's perspective on Buster Keaton and his vaudeville friends. I could see this appealing to some students and possibly even inspiring them to watch some Buster Keaton films. This is also a nice book for visual literacy discussions as many panels feature only images to p ...more
Apr 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Vaudeville performers come to a small town in Michigan, where Henry befriends one of the performers, Buster. The two grow up together and each wishing for the other person's life. The novel takes place over several summers and presents the concept of what it is life to grow up as a vaudeville performer.

Quick paced, interesting, historical graphic novel. Will appeal to the young reluctant reader and inform them about other historical events.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it liked it
With Buster Keaton at center stage through the eyes of a boy, this is a satisfying but not demanding book. The visual delivery of the story seems to have an understated quality to it - think Keaton's expression but less deadpan - Phelan's watercolors carry the story along. The high points of the narrative are when Keaton engineers some prank. This is all very satisfying for a Keaton fan who also likes Lake Michigan' coastal environment.
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Talk about a surreal experience. There is something almost tragically sad about this book even with its sweet message.

The art is classic and expressive. It really does move the story and tug at heartstrings.

Bluffton tells a fictional story as its mains but nonfictional as the background. You get to see the Keatons and learn a bit about their real life.

I am so glad that I just casually picked this up.
Julie Cotton
Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This charming graphic novel is both beautiful and touching. Its quiet watercolor pictures transported me to boyhood summers filled with the simple things of 1910. It does not rush, so I would recommend its reader not either. Enjoy it, like sipping an iced tea on a hot afternoon looking out over the lake.
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reminiscent of The Invention of Hugo Cabret in its artistic style and approach to exploring the life of a cinema legend through creative non-fiction, this quick read is an engaging, unexpectedly humorous, and simple, coming-of-age story that will leave you longing for the unfettered days of your own uncomplicated childhood.
One Sentence Review: A mildly melancholy but never depressing look at a famous figure in his youth, set in a time and place so realistic it should be required reading for those kids studying American history.
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful story about Joe Keaton's Michigan summer colony for vaudevillians in the early 1900's. Told through the eyes of a fictional year-round resident who befriends Joe's son, Buster. I look forward to seeing the final, color illustrations.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I adore Matt Phelan's art work. This story carried you right back to that early part of the 20th Century when life was simple, but life's questions were the same complex decisions. A wonderful entry for children to develop an interest in vaudeville, early cinema, and Buster Keaton.
Rebecca Plaza
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Delightful, nostalgic story telling! I can't imagine anyone not enjoying this glimpse into early 20 c. life. The magic of summer, temporary visitors, friendships and valuing the unique persons these vaudvillian must have been.
Ariel Caldwell
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Lovely, evocative graphic novel for grade-school readers. A story where "not much happens", but little things are heart-wrenchingly drawn and build a satisfying story. I particularly appreciated the jealousy and envy aspects - very well-done and age appropriate.
Scott Robins
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gn-kids
Phelan evokes time and place effortlessly, explores a young boy's struggle with his place in the world and coming to terms with his dreams and introduces Buster Keaton to young readers. Gorgeous work that I can't wait to see in full colour.
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Matt Phelan made his illustrating debut with Betty G. Birney’s The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster). Since then he has illustrated many picture books and novels for young readers, including Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli (Dial), Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle (Harcourt), and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Simon & Schuster) winner of the 2007 Ne ...more
“Buster never cracks a smile. Ever. No matter what. That’s what really makes it funny.” 0 likes
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