The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
Christopher Paul Curtis
1996 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 is a funny but realistic story that students are sure to love. The Watsons' story is told by Kenny, who is ten years old and in the fourth grade. Kenny's family consists of Momma; Dad; Byron, an older brother; and Joetta, a younger sister. Much of the humor in the story comes from the family relationships, which are extremely well observed. Readers will be laughing from the very beginning of the story when Byron's lips become stuck to the side mirror of the family car as the boys are scraping the ice off the windows. Other funny events involve school-yard bullies and games of [let's pretend] made up by both the boys. When Byron, who is 13 and, therefore, officially a juvenile delinquent in Kenny's eyes, tries his parents' patience by having his hair chemically straightened, the children's parents decide they have had enough. They arrange for Byron to stay with his grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama, for some good old-fashioned discipline. The family is loaded into the car, affectionately known as the brown bomber, and off they go!
The author has created a book that is easy to motivate students to read. The tone of the story changes, however, when a real event is inserted into the story quite dramatically. In 1963, the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed one Sunday during services. Four young girls attending Sunday school were killed, and others were injured. In the story, Joetta, the Watsons' youngest child is feared to be among the dead or wounded. Kenny, in an effort to find his young sister at the church, experiences the horror of this racist act firsthand and is deeply affected by what he sees and hears. In an interesting plot twist, it is Byron, Kenny's juvenile delinquent older brother, who helps him come to terms with his experiences. By the story's end, readers will be smiling again and laughing at the two brothers and the adventures of the [weird Watsons.]