Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

This is the story of ten-year-old Kenny Watson and his family, known as the "Weird Watsons" as he grows up in Flint, Michigan. He lives with his dad, his momma, his older brother, Byron, and his little sister, Joetta, or "Joey." He's used to being picked on at school because he has a lazy eye, but when two new students from the South come to live in Flint, the bullies have a new target. However, Kenny and Rufus soon become good friends. Byron is a little trouble-maker because he has just turned thirteen and is too cool for school. Mr. & Mrs. Watson decide that Byron is going to spend the summer with Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama, maybe longer if he doesn't get his act together. The family makes the long eighteen hour drive from Michigan to Alabama. They get to Birmingham right before the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing on Sunday, September 15, 1963 where four little girls in Sunday School were killed and many more injured. The final chapters of the book are about Kenny's reaction to the bombing.

I've read this book before in school sometime, I'm not sure what year. But I had a really hard time getting into it this time. The beginning is entertaining and funny. Kenny talks about his life in Flint, but I was frustrated that I thought this book would go into more detail about the Civil Rights Movement. The trip to Birmingham wasn't even discussed until after the 100th page and the church bombing didn't happen until the 14th chapter. It's still a good book though, I would just prefer more historical information about what happened and how people dealt with it.

However, once the church bombings took place, it was really interesting to see Kenny's reaction and how he tried to process what happened. I was really worried at first that Joey would have been one of the little girls who had died because Kenny couldn't find her but then I didn't think they would write the story from one of the little girl's brother's perspective.

I liked that the Epilogue was full of historical information so that the reader could get more details on what was happening during this time period. It also let the reader know that the author was historically accurate in his portrayal.

I thought this quote was so funny when I read it:
Now, your mother and I made a deal when we first got married that if either one of us ever watched the 'wunnerful, wunnerful' Lawrence Welk Show or listened to country music the other one got to get a free divorce. I'm kind of used to your mother and I don't want to have her dump me, so instead of taking the chance I would get hooked on hillbilly music I thought it would be wise to bring our own sounds along with us. (p. 126)
This book has won quite a few awards. One specific award that hasn't been mentioned in my blog yet, is the Coretta Scott King Award. "The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood." has a Reading Guide written by Amy Griffin for the book to use with students. It gives information about Christopher Paul Curtis and how the story came to be. There are a lot of guiding questions and information to help students dissect the plot, characters, and themes.

Christopher Paul Curtis is also the author of the Newbery Award winning & Coretta Scott King Award winning book, Bud, Not Buddy. I've never read this book before but it also takes place in Flint, Michigan. And of course, it won so many awards, so it is definitely worth your time to read as well (this just adds another book to my list now!)

Check out this Flocabulary Hip Hop History to Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech during the Civil Rights Movement. It's pretty catchy!! (Click on Listen to a Song on the right side)


  1. Doreen Santiago :)July 25, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    I loved the funny quote from the book that you put in your blog! I definitely laughed out loud a few times while reading this book. It also made me remember a lot about my own childhood, I could especially relate to dealing with siblings. I enjoyed reading the book also, but I couldn’t believe I had been reading so many pages and they had yet to take the trip to Birmingham! I think that was just how it had to be, so that we could fall in love with the characters and truly form a bond with them. Since there was not as much historical information provided in the book, as you had mentioned, I was really happy they provided an Epilogue.

  2. Also, I forgot to mention...I listened to the Hip Hop History song and Loved it! thanks for sharing :)

  3. All of the links that you included in this post are great! I now have a different understanding of Martin Luther King and hip hop!! Using that video to help students with the whole civil rights I believe would be a beneficial addition to any U.S. History teachers classroom. Being able to incorporate those photos of the four girls into your blog brought to life this fictional book. Even though this book is a fiction interpretation of a real situation in Birmingham I am quite sure that it will have a longtime affect on many students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas on the Civil Rights Movement!!!