Rachel Hancock's Reviews > The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
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Mar 28, 12

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in March, 2012

“The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963” was written by the acclaimed children’s author, Christopher Paul Curtis. In this historical fiction, Curtis uses his book to shed light on the Civil Rights Era and creatively expresses what life was like during those time. The book is set during the fall/winter of 1962 and the summer of 1963 and takes place in Flint, Michigan (where the Watson family lives) and Birmingham, Alabama (where Grandma Sands resides). A large portion of this book is spent in which Kenny (the novel’s 10-year old protagonist) describes the “Wacky Watson Family.” He shares all of the quirks of his parents and discusses facts and stories about his older brother, Byron, and younger sister, Joetta.

In the book, Byron is constantly getting into trouble and eventually, is parents decide that he should spend the summer with his grandmother in Alabama. The family packs up all of their things, boards the “Brown Bomber,” and sets out on a grand adventure down South. Once they arrive in Birmingham, the entire family enjoys reconnecting with relatives and to Kenny’s disappointment, Byron seems to be loving life in the South. As the novel progresses, Kenny and his brother go exploring and By saves Kenny from drowning in a whirlpool. Later that day, a bomb is set off at Grandma Sands church and Kenny and his family witness all of the aftermath of this hate crime. Ultimately, the family is forever changed by the sights they see and the experience they share while in Birmingham. They witness racial tensions first-hand and the images they saw that day will forever be imprinted in their minds.

I really enjoyed reading this book and appreciated the way Curtis told such a historical event through the lens of a 10-year old boy. I feel that by doing this, Curtis is catering to his audience and is able to speak to them in a way that is far more meaningful and impactful than if it were told through an older character. Additionally, I really enjoyed all of the dialogue in the book and feel as though that helped the book go by very quickly. I also found this book to be humorous at times, especially the part about Byron straightening his hair. Furthermore, I always looked forward to seeing the title of each chapter and think Curtis made them exciting for readers to dive into. I loved Chapter 7’s title, “Every Chihuahua in America Lines Up to Take a Bite Out of Byron” and think all in all, Curtis did a fabulous job at making a very serious event in our nation’s history accessible for children to understand.

I would definitely consider using this book in my classroom someday; however, I certainly feel that it is best for older readers due to the content of its subject matter. I would enjoy sharing this book to a fourth or fifth grade class and think they would really benefit from reading it. I am certainly a fan of Christopher Paul Curtis’ work and can very vividly recall reading his Newberry Award Winner, “Bud, Not Buddy” when I was in elementary school.
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