Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

Curtis, C.P. (1995). The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

Plot Description:

The Watsons, consisting of Kenny (the middle child), Joetta (his younger sister) Byron (the oldest) and their parents, Daniel and Wilona are an African American family living in Flint, Michigan in the 1960s. The book is told from Kenny’s perspective. The majority of the book is Kenny recounting funny stories of the day to day lives of his family, the “Weird Watsons.” He and Byron don’t get along very well, his older brother is much too cool to hang around with Kenny. Some of the stories include Byron getting his lips stuck on their family car’s mirror while kissing his reflection when he was supposed to be scraping ice off of the car with Kenny. Another is about Kenny and his lazy eye and how he befriends Rufus, a new poor student just moved from the South. Kenny thinks that Rufus is his "saver", sent to save Kenny by taking all the attention from the bullies away from him, but when Rufus starts tagging along with Kenny, his plan backfires. A lot of the stories are about the trouble Byron gets himself into through playing with matches or getting his hair relaxed. Finally, his parents decide the best thing for him would be to take him to Birmingham, Alabama to spend the summer (and perhaps longer) with his Grandma Sands. The family readies their old car, the “Brown Bomber,” and prepares to make the trip to see their Grandma to leave Byron. With the upcoming trip, some discussion arises in the Watson family about the differences between their lives in Flint and those of African Americans living in Birmingham. Through his tragic experiences in Birmingham, including the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Kenny faces a really difficult reality which only his older brother’s toughness can help him through.


I truly loved this book. I laughed out loud in parts and sobbed in others. It was incredibly written, especially seeing such a horrible act as the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham dealt with through a 10 year old boy’s eyes. Through Kenny’s descriptions and tales of his family you fall in love with the “Weird Watsons” seeing similarities between them and each of our own families. I love how the author starts off keeping the book very light and funny; as the family is preparing and then traveling to Birmingham he introduces some heavier subject matter, such as racism and the differences between Michigan and the South. Then, once in Birmingham the book takes a very serious and tragic turn with the bombing and the author takes the reader into a much deeper understanding of Kenny and the Watson family. The interactions between the family are funny and touching. The relationship between Kenny and Byron is very well written, that strange tug of war siblings have between loving and hating one another. I loved how the epilogue discussed that although this is a fictitious story, the bombing did happen and young girls did die, young girls like Joetta, who the reader had come to love while reading the book. This gives a very personal, real, and emotional meaning to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the civil rights movement for the reader.


Historical Fiction

Reading Level:

Ages 9 - 12

Similar Books:


Civil Rights Movement, Family, Siblings, 1960s


Newbery Honor Book

Coretta Scott King Award

Character Names/Descriptions:

Kenny Watson: Kenny is the middle Watson child. He is ten years old and narrates the book.

Byron Watson (By): Byron is the oldest Watson child. He is a bit of a rebel and is the reason the family must go to Birmingham.

Joetta Watson (Joey): Joey is the youngest Watson child. She is very protective of her brothers.


The Watsons are an African American family living in Michigan in the 196os. The family decides to take a trip to visit family in Birmingham, Alabama. It is through this trip and one particular tragic even that the Watson children learn about the harsh realities of racism in the South and become even closer as a family.

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