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The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

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The Newbery Honor-winning American classic, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 , celebrates 20 years with this anniversary edition featuring a special letter from Christopher Paul Curtis and an introduction by noted educator Dr. Pauletta Bracy.
Enter the hilarious world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. There's Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron, who's thirteen and an "official juvenile delinquent." When Momma and Dad decide it's time for a visit to Grandma, Dad comes home with the amazing Ultra-Glide, and the Watsons set out on a trip like no other. They're heading South to Birmingham, Alabama, toward one of the darkest moments in America's history.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

Christopher Paul Curtis

45 books1,105 followers
Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan on May 10, 1953 to Dr. Herman Elmer Curtis, a chiropodist, and Leslie Jane Curtis, an educator. The city of Flint plays an important role in many of Curtis's books. One such example is Bucking the Sarge, which is about a fifteen year old boy named Luther T. Ferrel, who is in a running battle with his slum-lord mother. Curtis is an alumnus of the University of Michigan-Flint.

Curtis is the father of two children, Steven, an ensign in the United States Navy, and Cydney, a college student and accomplished pianist. His third child is expected to make an appearance in 2011. Christopher modeled characters in Bud, Not Buddy after his two grandfathers—Earl “Lefty” Lewis, a Negro league baseball pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression.

Curtis moved to Detroit, Michigan in January, 2009

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,400 reviews
Profile Image for Brina.
903 reviews4 followers
June 25, 2017
Christopher Paul Curtis wanted to be a writer but had yet to get a break. Working on a mechanic line in a Flint, Michigan automotive factory, he penned three historical fiction novels for middle grade children. In 1995 his first novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 was published, and lead Curtis out of the automobile industry and into the forefront of children's literature. The winner of both the Newberry and Coretta Scott King as well as other awards, The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 is a quality autobiographical and historical fiction novel.

The Watson family is your ordinary African American family living in Flint, Michigan. Daniel works hard to provide for his wife Wilona and their three children Byron, Kenneth, and Joetta. Even if they do not always have enough for luxuries, the family has a roof over their head and is able to get by. Wilona comes from Birmingham, Alabama and never quite gets used to the north, even though it is a safer place to raise her family than in the south. As a teenager, Byron engages in multiple forms of teenage rebellion and threatens to tear apart the fabric of his family. Meanwhile, Kenneth is the family brain, reading well above grade level, while Joetta is an adorable kindergarten student just beginning her school career.

As Byron's exploits continue, Wilona takes matters into her own hands and decides to take the family on vacation to Birmingham with the intention of leaving Byron there for the summer. The story is told through Kenneth's narrations and include many memorable interchanges including how Daniel installs a record player in their car, and the different southern dialects that Wilona and her mother use. All is going well, and the family is enjoying their stay in Alabama, until the actual church bombings occur at the church where Joetta is attending Sunday school. The family is scarred but none more than Kenneth, and the Watsons return to Flint the next day.

Christopher Paul Curtis has created a powerful, introspective novel for middle grade readers. He has created a strong protagonist in ten year old Kenny Watson as well as well- developed supporting characters. In a middle child who is both academically gifted yet overshadowed by his siblings, Curtis has created a character that many kids can relate to. He has also made this novel into a quality historical fiction in that he weaves the Birmingham church bombings into an already powerful story. Worthy of the Newberry and Coretta King Awards for youth fiction, Curtis has written a story that can be used in schools and for kids to enjoy on their own.

I would not have chosen to read about the Watson family if this book was not a buddy read in one of my goodreads groups. My curiosity piqued, I joined in the read and was lead to a poignant middle grade kids book. I do take part in reading black history month challenges each year, but was happy to read this novel later in the calendar as I discovered a new to me author in Christopher Paul Curtis. An important middle grade novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 is 4.5 stars, and I look forward to reading Curtis' other works.
Profile Image for Stacey.
876 reviews161 followers
July 20, 2012
When my 10 year old says, "Mom, you HAVE to read this!" and checks my progress, it melts my heart. I'm only a few pages in, but I'm wondering why my 5th grade teacher didn't offer great books(or any for that matter) for us to read!

This truly is YA. It's full of adolescent antics, lights up the importance of family and told the story of an incident that happened in Birmingham '63. It's an important read for kids and provided the opportunity to talk about the Civil Rights Movement.

My favorite part of the book was when my son read to me his favorite chapter while I ate dinner. Priceless.
29 reviews
December 5, 2013
I stayed up super late finishing The Watsons Go to Brimingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t tell you how artful I thought it was… well, let me try.

First, I have a big problem with history (so much so that it is truly embarrassing) and I always have had this problem —I need to know the people and stories behind the events to remember anything. I also have a big problem with reading historical fiction. It often seems so “fixed”—--"Tell some story around the facts you want to present!" I want to read a story that is a story before it is about any time period or historical events. I have to get to know history from the inside out, and that is just what this great book allows me to do—through all my own strengths: feelings, nuances, humor, imagination….through story. I will never forget these characters. They are people I know. Character development is paramount in this book. It is their growth that pulls the story along, not events. Best of all, it is an enjoyable ride.

I am not quite sure how Curtis crafted such a lovely book. It is in his storytelling. I don’t doubt for a moment any word on any page. I was especially touched by the ideas that could have only come from some childhood somewhere because they were, so oddly, kid. So many of his ideas must have come from some childhood he did know intimately. They seem impossible to make up because they are so perfectly how children’s minds work, like the Watson’s pet hospital behind the couch. Some kids must have invented that idea! Did Curtis really create these ideas?! Also, the idea of the Wool Pooh. That is just how a kid interprets (or misinterprets) things…and how it becomes a real entity in his mind. The way Kenny plays with his friends with the dinosaurs and they talk about the “radioactiveness” and the looking sideways at things so his lazy eye looked straight. All these little things that TELL the story, and tell the characters, and make it so real.

The big question is: How can what he writes ring so true to me, someone who has known no life such as this. That is his everyman secret. Curtis just tells his story; he disappears and the characters lead you through by the hand. It is seamless. You never doubt for a moment, or “come out of it” and become self-aware that you are just reading a book… or wonder “why?” or ask if that sounds realistic. Curtis never “narrates.” His voice is one with the story. You never hear him. We experience for ourselves each character’s emotional struggles by being in the story ourselves. I was so involved with every thought Kenny had, they were my own thoughts. He doesn’t tell us Kenny was depressed…Kenny doesn’t know what he, himself, is feeling! We just feel it sink into us. You just absorb this book. In this way, this book is almost like a poem, or a ballad, or a song. You have to just experience it. You have to experience their family life. And if you never had a family before, this book would show you what family is (—that abstract part you can’t put your finger on)…just by how it feels. Sure it is rough, sure it is messy, but each character is imperfectly perfect, and… it is what it is.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 is immediately one of my all-time favorite books now. And for all those reasons that are hard to define in words. I like that it has no feeling of tidiness, of preconceieved ideas of how to tell a story, with no real beginning or end of a story. You just enter into it as the Watsons are living their lives. It has no clean little moral or happy ever after or lesson learned, or plotted-out literary devices and tie-up-the-loose-ends conclusion. That is how a real story is. That is how life is. We just enter it, and it unfolds. That is part of the fluidity of this book. The seamless, unselfconscious telling of a story that just tells itself. Simply, it is artful.

The book fits the (vague) Newberry criteria just fine; it fits the Coretta Scottt King criteria exceptionally well. The book does indeed help the reader to question and understand his own attitudes as a citizen of a pluralistic society, and includes well drawn characters that portray growth.

Thank you, Christopher Paul Curtis.
39 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2007
The plot is simple: 10-year-old Kenny (the narrator) has a loving family: a mom and dad, a little sister (Joetta), and a big, tough brother (Byron). Byron starts getting into typical teenage trouble. Kenny's parents decide to take the family on a road trip to visit grandmom in Alabama. They figure she can straighten Byron out with some old-school discipline.

During the family's visit, a church is bombed and 4 little girls are killed (taken from the historical Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that was bombed on September 15, 1963). This event changes not only Byron's life but it touches the narrator Kenny as well. At one point, everyone in the family couldn't find Joetta and they feared she died in the bombing.

The book is one of those sleepers because for the first 150 pages, the reader gets good family fun, a wonderful collection of memorable characters. The climax comes in the last 30 pages of the book but when the danger finally comes, the reader gets punched in the gut. There's a point near the end when Kenny says he feels ashamed and doesn't know why. Curtis perfectly captured that moment every black child has when he or she has learned that some people in the world will want to kill them just for being black. I remember feeling the same way when my dad and I had to go to a grocery store in a white neighborhood after the LA riots in '92.

As a sidenote, if I taught this book in a middle grade school class, we'd definitely watch the documentary "Four Little Girls" by Spike Lee for an extended discussion of the book.
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 42 books89.2k followers
February 23, 2021
I've been meaning to read this esteemed novel for years. Thought-provoking. It had a hint of the supernatural, which I loved.
Profile Image for Karina.
823 reviews
December 16, 2019
I couldn't read this fast enough. It has been my second read from Christopher Paul Curtis and I ate up the story like a kid eating a sucker behind the couch his mom told him not to eat in the first place.

It was funny and serious with racial issues thrown out to the reader.

Told in the narrative of Kenneth Watson, it follows his family and life in school focusing on his bully brother Byron (By). Each chapter is hilariously recounted as only a kid in third grade can remember the events or understanding of the events.

The family finally travels from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama where in 1963 they learn a scary lesson about hatefulness.

I grew fond of Kenny and his family esp his parents. Would recommend this to YA readers to learn something on history; things history books don't teach.

Will be reading more of Curtis. 2 thumbs and toes up. Lol
Profile Image for Sarah.
237 reviews1,096 followers
May 2, 2018
Kenny Watson is a ten-year-old resident of Flint, Michigan. The year is 1963, and Kenny, having grown up in an overwhelmingly black neighborhood and never visited his mother’s family down South, has not personally experienced much racism. He’s seen violence against people of color on TV, but those scenes might as well be happening on another planet to him. He just worries about playing with his plastic dinosaurs and evading his brother Byron, who’s thirteen and an “official juvenile delinquent.”

Unfortunately for Kenny, Byron has become such a problem that their parents declare an intervention. This summer, they’re going to drop Byron off with their old-fashioned maternal grandma who lives in Birmingham. If she can’t make him shape up, nothing can. But as they pile into their signature car, the Brown Bomber, the Watsons have no idea that they’re driving into a maelstrom…

Content Advisory

Byron terrorizes the neighborhood. While he has no problem with beating up on Kenny, he sometimes comes to his brother’s defense by bullying those who bully Kenny. On one of these occasions, he forces a boy to slide on the ice, smashing himself into the fence around the school over and over again. Another time, he throws a donut at a bird sitting on a telephone wire, knocking it to the ground dead. Then he gives the bird a funeral and buries it, complete with a little cross made of twigs.

Kenny, his friend Rufus, and Rufus’ little brother get a lot of cruel words thrown at them by the schoolyard tough guys.

Sex: Kenny catches Dad “accidentally on purpose” brushing his hand against Momma’s “chests.” The lad notes that the last time his parents acted this goofy “was when Byron and me found out we were going to get a sister.”

It’s implied that Grandma Sands’ equally ancient male neighbor has moved in with her, although I doubt kids will pick up on it.

The hoodlums in the Watsons’ neighborhood have a secret stash of dirty magazines, which Kenny finds gross but has perused anyway. When Momma lists Byron’s many “Fantastic Adventures”, she mentions a “…problem…” with a girl named Mary Ann, the details of which are left entirely to the reader’s imagination.

The beleaguered school bus driver tells minor bully Larry Dunn to leave Rufus alone: “You don’t want to start panning on folks…Not with what I know ‘bout your mama.”

Language: Byron frequently drops mild swears and occasionally addresses his brother as “Your jive little a$$,” though he usually substitutes “behind.” On one occasion Kenny informs us that By muttered “the S word” which he does not print.

Substance Abuse: Somehow the only JV thing that Byron hasn’t done, apparently, is try any illegal drugs or alcohol. He does smoke though.

Nightmare Fuel: Kenny ignores his family’s advice and goes to an unsafe swimming hole with a whirlpool. Little sister Joetta didn’t know what a whirlpool was, so Byron concocted a nonsense story about “the Wool Pooh, Winnie’s evil twin brother” who lurks in the water and drowns people. Kenny laughed at this and went alone to the swimming hole anyway, only to find himself trapped in the whirlpool. Struggling for air, he hallucinates that a big blobby, faceless creature is dragging him down by the ankle.

Byron tells Kenny and Joetta that Momma makes them wear so many coats in winter because otherwise their “thin Southern blood” would freeze in their veins. He claims that the early morning garbage trucks are full of “froze-up Southern folks,” stiff as statues.

Christopher Paul Curtis has been one of my favorite authors since I was ten years old. His historical novels are a deft blend of humorous and tragic elements, told with great warmth and often based on personal or family experience.

The Watsons was his first book, and his style has gotten more streamlined over the years, but for me, the long episodic chapters of this story add to its considerable charm. The reader gets to know Kenny, his family, and his world so well that we feel him lose his innocence as if it’s happening to us.

I really can’t do justice to how this man writes, so here are some quotes from the book:

”Kids,” Dad said, “I almost wasn’t your father. You guys came real close to having a clown for a daddy named Hambone Henderson…had more knots and bumps on his head than a dinosaur. So ask yourselves…if you’d rather be a little [cold] or go through life known as the Hambonettes.”

If Momma was trying to make Byron relax she wasn’t doing a real good job at it. All this talk about love and not getting hurt was making him real nervous.

There is a chapter entitled “Nazi Parachutes Attack America and Get Shot Down over the Flint River by Captain Byron Watson and His Flamethrower of Death.”

[Momma] told us that same sad old story about how when she was little her house caught on fire…We’d heard it so many times that Byron…called it Momma’s Smokey the Bear story.

Another chapter title is “Every Chihuahua in America Lines Up to Take a Bite out of Byron.”

I loved when Dad talked to me like I was grown-up. I didn’t really understand half the junk he was saying, but it sure did feel good to be talked to like that!

Warmly recommended for everyone, but especially middle-school kids who want a book with both humor and depth.
Profile Image for Brandice.
860 reviews
February 27, 2023
The Watsons Go to Birmingham is a book I loved and read multiple times in elementary school. While the story details I remembered were definitely hazy, when saw it again recently, I knew I wanted to revisit the book. ⁣

Kenny Watson is the middle child in a family of 5 living in Flint, Michigan. He has a younger sister, Joetta, and an older brother, Byron. The first half of the story follows the Watson family in their mostly routine life (school, siblings, friends) while the second half follows the family on their journey from Flint to Birmingham, Alabama where Mrs. Watson is from. Byron will be spending the summer there after too many recent troublemaking incidents. Mrs. Watson has a carefully outlined plan for their travels and once they arrive, the Watsons realize that unfortunately things aren’t the same in the South as they are in Michigan. ⁣

I did not remember that so much of the story is about the Watson family’s day-to-day life and lead up to the actual trip. That said, I still enjoyed reading the story again as an adult. I liked Kenny, I liked the Watson family, and I felt for them and the awful event they endured in Birmingham.
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,020 reviews922 followers
September 15, 2016
I read this in like middle school and LOVED IT!

That's like all I remember hahahaha
Profile Image for BookChampions.
1,184 reviews108 followers
May 25, 2011
I just can't recommend The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963. While the book can be pretty funny and the Weird Watsons are a tight-knit, pretty-darn-average family filled with support and love, it also meanders and at times even plods. I'm surprising myself to say this (because I rarely say this about any book), but I actually found it pretty boring.

The episodes, or vignettes, have the feel of the Jean Shepherd-inspired film, A Christmas Story (and some of the scenes seem borrowed from the film--think of Byron and the frozen mirror, or the mother's insistence on bundling up for the cold). And maybe Watsons would work better as a film, too.

There is only the barest thread of a plot and nearly no conflict. Only the final two or three chapters had any "zip" to it, and this is when the book develops into something worth reading. (I don't want to say exactly what this turning point--one of the book's only turning points--is because it did come as a surprise to me.) At this point, the book finally became more than a series of "so what?" family narratives and revealed something deeper about how an average family reacts to the devastating social climate of the 1960s. These last two chapters were also, oddly, the only ones where I felt that Curtis' language sparkled, becoming more than a typical first-person reportage. The repeated comparison of black hands to sparrows, for examples, was lovely.

I was hoping Christopher Paul Curtis was going to expand my understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and the era it sprung from, and instead I got a nostalgic, "heart-warming" tale of a family generally unencumbered by life (and extraordinary, I guess, only for the love they share with one another). It probably has its place, and some will love it. It left me, though, wondering for nearly 170 pages exactly, "So What?"
481 reviews13 followers
Want to read
March 8, 2013
This is the only other novel I have read by Curtis and I enjoyed it even more than Bud, Not Buddy. I did not have to read this one in school so I had to track it down myself. I remember listening to the audio version at age eleven or twelve and loving the Watsons and all of their random adventures. The first incident, the one where the elder brother gets his lips stuck to a car mirror in winter because he was kissing his reflection, is one of my favorite moments in fiction so far. The brothers throwing cookies at birds, or eating them until they are sick is easily remembered as well. Even the scenes about school back in the early 60s and the cruelty of kids to those less fortunate was brilliantly done. The last third of the book becomes much more serious with the church bombing, however, and only now that I’m a little older can I appreciate the genius in that. When I was young I didn’t really understand the significance of that section of the book and the only thing I remember really enjoying was the “whirlpool” scene which gave me chills. Later, the way the author made everything in this book work and still made it something that anyone can enjoy floors me. Brilliant novel. Absolutely brilliant and I recommend it to all those who didn’t already have to read it.
Profile Image for Kael Markham.
3 reviews1 follower
November 18, 2014
The Watsons go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis is a historical fiction book. In this novel, Kenny and his family live in Flint, Michigan. His brother, Byron, has not stopped acting up and Kenny's Momma and Dad do not know what to do with him. They then come to an agreement to go down to Birmingham, Alabama where they were going to stay with Kenny's grandma for awhile, then leave Byron there for the summer. On their trip, in the car they would listen to their ultra-glide and they seemed either fascinated or disgusted by every rest stop they were at. Once they got there, they noticed it was real hot and that it sometimes didn't help them sleep. Then, one day when Joetta, Kenny's sister, was at Sunday school, Kenny heard a loud noise, and thats when everything seemed to change. I gave The Watsons go to Birmingham-1963 five out of five stars, because this was a great novel and I really liked it. This novel helped visualize what segregation was like in the south and how unfair life was to other people. There were also many problems in this book, but by the end, everything was resolved. If someone asked me about this book, I would probably say they had to read it. The best part was probably when the bomb had blown up only because there was so much tension and so much going on. Because this was such a great book, I would read it again.
Profile Image for Connor Bray.
3 reviews
November 18, 2014
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 A historical fiction By Christopher Paul Curtis. In this novel 'The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963', tells about a family that consist of Kenny, Byron, Momma, Dad And joey the girl. This story was about a troubled kid named Byron who finally goes overboard and is sent to live with his strict grandmother named Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement when segregation was still a big thing deep down south. Through their ups and downs something horrific happens which changes how the family acts and draws them closer together then ever before. Overall I really liked this novel it was really easy to relate to some of the characters in this novel, for instance I am a Surprisingly good child like Kenny and i have someone in my family that drives me absolutely nuts like Joey. My overall favorite part of this book was when Byron was kissing his reflection in the rear view mirror while scraping ice off of the Brown Bomber and getting his lips stuck to it I thought it sounded like something i'd do. One of my least favorite parts was when the most horrific events happened (you'll have to read to find out)
3 reviews2 followers
November 18, 2014
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 is a great historical fiction book to read the author of this book is Christopher Paul Curtis. The book shows you what it was like to be in an African American family in 1963 of the southern and northern parts of America. I for one loved The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 I thought it was really funny at some parts but really sad at other parts. I don't have a brother and I got to see what it was like having an older brother. My favorite part of the book was during the bombing. It was horribly frightening, but that part kept me on the edge of my seat more than any book I have ever read. The book was great although I really wish the epilogue told us what happened 5-10 years later. I'd definitely recommend this book.
Profile Image for Rashika (is tired).
976 reviews712 followers
October 4, 2015
A list of thoughts upon reading this novel.

1. I love children's lit and middle grade.
2. I love my teacher for making us read this book.
3. I love this fucking book.
4. Kids are mean.
6. The Watsons are the best.
Profile Image for Neil.
27 reviews
April 29, 2019
whole book summarized
family lives in Flint Michigan
Big brother becomes Mexican
Family goes on road trip
Main character almost drowns
bomb goes off in church
main character hides behind couch for a few days
And that is why I'm not rating this
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books785 followers
December 30, 2018
3.5 stars

This was the first novel written by this author, and though I liked it, I liked his Bud, Not Buddy, especially its narratorial voice, more.

Though most of this story is told in a lighthearted way as we learn about this family, the beginning was almost hard for me to read with its matter-of-fact depiction of the bullying that the narrator and his friend receive, as he wonders why bullies are the ones who can be so funny. The ending is exquisite as it depicts the narrator's mental state after a traumatic event.

My only quibbles are with some of the narrator's repetitions, though I don't think a younger reader would mind those at all, and the fact that the timeline doesn't fit in with the evoked historical event, which was in mid-September. I assume the novelist set his ending in the summer, so the kids in the story aren't missing school -- a 'blip' that won't bother the target audience either.
Profile Image for Muffinsandbooks.
1,054 reviews735 followers
February 11, 2021
Une famille attachante, un style d’écriture qui m’a rendue accro, et des beaux messages au fil du récit ... j’ai adoré !
Profile Image for Aj Sterkel.
781 reviews31 followers
December 24, 2018
Likes: I guess this is technically a reread because a teacher read this novel to our class when I was in elementary school. I picked the book up again because I didn’t remember much about it. I knew I liked it. I vaguely remembered the rebellious older brother, the ugly car, and the scary thing that happens at the end. The rest of the story was very foggy in my mind.

Now that I’ve reread it, I can confirm that the writing and character development are excellent! Seriously, this is the most believable middlegrade book I’ve read in a long time. It’s so realistic that I’m wondering if any of it is biographical. I know that the ending is based on a real event, but I’m not sure about the rest of the story. It seems real. Even though the Watsons are “weird,” they’re not cartoonish like the characters in some other children’s books. Each member of the Watson family has a huge personality. This leads to amusing mishaps.

Overall, this is a story about sibling relationships. The three Watson kids are very different from each other. Byron is angry and impulsive. Kenny is quiet and nerdy. Joetta is the baby who gets all of the attention. The kids fight a lot. Then something unexpected happens. They need to work together to get through it. Sometimes, your family members are the only ones who know how to help you.

“‘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.’” – The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963

Dislikes: I remembered the funny and scary parts; I didn’t remember the plodding pace. The characters are amazing, but it takes them a very long time to do anything. They don’t even leave for Birmingham until over halfway through the book. I wish the plot had started earlier. I feel like I spent most of the book waiting for the Watsons to go to Birmingham. It took too long for the story to deliver what the title promised.

The Bottom Line: This novel fully deserves its “modern classic” label. It has some of the most realistic characters I’ve come across in a kids’ book.

Do you like opinions, giveaways, and bookish nonsense? I have a blog for that.
Profile Image for Samantha Houser.
4 reviews11 followers
November 18, 2014
The book called The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis is a historical fiction book. The setting of this novel is placed in the year of 1963. The characters are Kenny, who's point of view it is told by, Byron, his older brother, Joey, his younger brother, and his parents, Daniel and Wilona. They live in Flint, Michigan but they go to Birmingham for a while. The main plot is that Byron is such a bad behaving kid, a juvenile delinquent that his parents decide to take him to Birmingham, Alabama, where Grandma Sands lives, to straighten him up. I rated this book a five out of five because I liked the main plot of this story. I liked mostly everything about this story. I liked how even though it was placed in 1963, it was interesting and at the beginning of this book I thought that it was just going to be boring facts. I also liked this book because of the characters. I liked how they live in a integrated place but the place that they go to is an segregated place. The setting was also something that I liked. You should read this book because so you can not only learn a little bit about the past, but to learn a little bit about the Weird Watsons!
Profile Image for Donalyn.
Author 8 books5,914 followers
April 12, 2010
Reread. This book, a consistent favorite in my classroom over the years, is wildly popular with my current students. We meet the Weird Watsons and through them, experience the Civil Rights Movement and its impact on individual children and their families.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham also launched Christopher Paul Curtis' writing career, an immeasurable gift to all of us who read his work.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,112 reviews
February 23, 2021
I loved this compassionate, heartfelt story, deeply funny at times, told from the point-of-view of ten-year-old Kenny, who is bullied by his older brother, Byron. We see the humor in Kenny's life and close-knit family, and the struggles a young boy faces when he loves but doesn't want to emulate an older brother who is pushing boundaries on the cusp of adulthood. We also see him cope with trauma when the Watsons visit Kenny's grandmother in Birmingham at the time of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in September of 1963. Both Kenny and By awaken to the struggles of civil rights and the harrowing truth of racism; up until this point, like many young children, Kenny has led a family- and school-centered, relatively sheltered life. The visit to Birmingham leads both of them to a greater understanding of the sadness and horror wrought by racism in their world, and it draws them closer as siblings. As Byron tells his little brother, who withdraws from the world in a PTSD-like state after the bombing:

"I don't know, Kenny. Momma and Dad say they can't help themselves, they did it because they're sick, but I don't know. I ain't never heard of no sickness that makes you kill little girls just because you don't want them in your school. I don't think they're sick at all, I just think they let hate eat them up and turn them into monsters" (199-200).

A careful reading of the passage above, and the book at large, would be a great way to help students understand how the world has changed but also how the world has stayed much the same since the era Curtis so wonderfully depicts. This novel is a great teaching tool for middle grade readers, exemplifying as it does the themes of sibling rivalry, bullying, brotherhood, the importance of family, and racism and white supremacy.
Profile Image for Eileen.
834 reviews
June 19, 2017
3-3.5 stars

An animated, spontaneous, and generally light-hearted view of family life from the perspective of 10-year-old Kenny up until the family's eye-opening road trip to Birmingham, Alabama where there is ultimately a shift in focus to a more somber event in U.S. history. Although the plot summary notes the 1963 time period as one of the darkest times, race is not directly touched upon until after the halfway point where it is only addressed intermittently until the aforementioned event at the end of the story and in the epilogue. I imagine that was the author's intention so the book would be initially engaging and not overly heavy-handed in order to draw in its intended audience of children/young adults.
Profile Image for Brown Girl Reading.
349 reviews1,589 followers
February 4, 2015
This was an interesting story about the Watson family. It's filled with realistic anecdotes of an African-American family living in Flint, Michigan. The focus of the story is between 2 brothers and their arduous relationship. All this takes place in 1963 with the back drop of the civil Rights movement. It's a wonderful story to get kids to talk about family life, siblings, and of course to talk about racism and the Civil rights Movement.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,819 followers
February 20, 2018
This book was phenomenal and interesting in untold ways. I thought it was hilarious and interesting to see the family dynamic. While the ending was not the best that I've encountered, I look forward to reading more from the author. I'll be adding my full review sometime soon! This is also an AMAZING audiobook!
Profile Image for Maya B.
495 reviews54 followers
September 25, 2016
Loved it. I recommend to parents to read along with their children. I think its a book that touches on issues that will get families talking.
Profile Image for Maddox Demers.
10 reviews19 followers
October 7, 2019
Funny and has the serious parts towards to the end.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,233 reviews2,208 followers
March 21, 2022

Giving this a bit lower of a rating compared to other books I read with my kids cause frankly I wasn't a huge fan and THEY weren't a huge fan.
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