The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Paperback, 1997


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Call number

J Cu


Yearling (1997), Paperback, 210 pages


The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.

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User reviews

LibraryThing member Spetti18
Good book. The time setting wasn't my favorite, I don't like reading about the civil rights movement. It is very sad. Still good though. Byron is very funny.
LibraryThing member JanelleVeith
I enjoyed this book and the lightheartedness of the family during a very dark part of American history.
LibraryThing member kdebros
A bit like a tv series, this book is hilarious at first, and then, in the same voice very grim. Most books about birmingham are all very serious. The more lighthearted beginning, followed by the historic event makes it very real, gives it great depth.
LibraryThing member PinkPandaParade
In a sometimes episodic depiction of a Northern black family in the 60s, Christopher Paul Curtis has managed to create probably one of the funniest and saddest young adult books of the 20th century. First published in 1998 (and republished by Laurel Leaf in 2000), The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963
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is more than a recounting of a family trip, despite the title. The book starts out with the various dealings of its protagonist and precocious 10-year old narrator, Kenny Watson, with his older brother (the troubled Byron), his younger sister (the sweet and sometimes annoying Joetta), and his parents. Kenny's is a voice not easily forgotten. Charming and hilarious, he is probably one of my favorite fictional narrators. All that's needed to get an idea of the type of voice he possesses is to list some of his chapter titles: 1. And You Wonder Why We Get Called the Weird Watsons 4. Froze-Up Southern Folks 7. Every Chihuahua in America Lines Up to Take a Bite out of Byron 13. I Meet Winnie's Evil Twin Brother, the Wool Pooh When Kenny's older brother plays one too many pranks and gets in trouble one too many times, the parents discuss in hushed whispers, and finally in boisterous somewhat staged voices, their intentions to take Byron to Birmingham to get disciplined and a good hard dose of reality living under the belligerent strictness of their Grandma Sands. Their mom relating that Grandma Sands "says that that stuff on TV isn't happening around her" (119) is the first hint that all isn't as it is cracked up to be in Birmingham, something that Kenny does not quite understand or realize until it is too late to get the searing images of reality out of his head, or the readers. As Kenny says, their home of Flint is "about two million miles" from Alabama. Kenny's experience as they make an unscheduled stop in the middle of nowhere, more a frightened reaction to the nervousness experienced by her mom and Byron about the realities of racism (Byron says to Kenny, "they'd hang you now, then eat you later"), is later magnified when he comes across the wreckage of a church bombing (based on Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that was bombed on September 15, 1963) that changes the family's lives forever. While a bit jarring (such is life, I suppose), the switch from comedy to drama is one that is best rectified through the consistent voice of the narrator, whose voice and experience of the world is utterly convincing, and a great way to deal with very delicate subject matter of racism and children's death. The delicate subject matter makes me think that parents should read this first before broaching the subject with children, but that this is a good way to bring it into focus (the epilogue gives a historical foundation for looking more into the history of segregation and civil rights. That being said, the Watsons are a loving and lovable family. Moments of sibling rivalry and Kenny's unique perspective can make you laugh out loud, while the chilling realities seep in and transform the narrative into something that important enough to be shared across classrooms in this country. The back cover recommends this for ages 10 and up - I would still read it first before handing it over to a 10-year old.
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LibraryThing member jnleonard
With an over protective mom, a dangerous brother, and a whiny little sister, the Watsons are in for an adventure. In Flint, Michigan it is extremely cold unfortunatley for the Watsons. Joey and Kenny are always being bundled up by their mom, which gives the kids at school an extra reason to tease
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them even their brother the biggest bully of the school. But that all changes when they go to Alabama for a vacation with there strict Grandma. I liked this book is good because it showed how the'weird Watsons got through being bullied at school.
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LibraryThing member amanda_c
This award-winning novel’s humor and kind spirit allow it to deal with one of the most tragic incidents of the civil rights era with hope and love.

Potential Use:
This book would be an ideal complement to any teacher’s curriculum on the civil rights movement, but it is also entertaining,
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engrossing and interesting enough to work well as a read-alone book.
Child Appeal:
The many humorous incidents in this book will quickly draw the child reader, and the episodic structure makes it friendly for children who can only read a little bit a day.
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LibraryThing member lisabankey
Christopher Paul Curtis tells of six year old Kenny's African American Family from Flint Michigan. Kenny's older brother keeps getting into trouble and the family decides to have him spend the summer with Grandma in Alabama. We follow the familiy as they drive to Alabama and become aware of the
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racism that is prevalent in the South. Soon after they arrive the African American church gets bombed and kills four little girls.
This story is based on a true story.

This book is great for extending the curriculum if you are studying history, African American experience in America, etc. There are teacher guides available to promote quality discussions in the classroom while reading this book.
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LibraryThing member Omrythea
A great story of a family's decision to try to do something drastic to set their delinquent son straight. Lots of humor, told from a child's point of view. Family bonds, historical tragedy, sweltering heat, bitter cold, funny anecdotes, life lessons. This book has something for everyone. It still
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remains a very pertinent read today.
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LibraryThing member bkoopman
This is a funny book that is mostly about growing up in Flint, Michigan. The family's roots are in Birmingham, Alabama. While most of the story is fun and silly and about relationships, the family experiences some frightening, difficult racial hatred along the way. Still, the story is not a story
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about hatred or merely coping, this is a story about the love that binds families, and growing up in America. It is very realistic "realistic fiction."
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LibraryThing member BooXO789
I liked this book better than Bud Not Buddy still by Christopher Paul Curtis!
LibraryThing member readingrat
This book came highly recommended to me by a middle school teacher friend. The author makes the Watson family come vividly alive while also touching (lightly) on the racial unrest of the period. Expect to be transported right back to the 1960s when you read this book.
LibraryThing member bibliophile26
A black family from Michigan travels to Birmingham, an area caught up in the civil rights movement. The Watsons' time in Birmingham and the aftermath of their witness of the civil rights movement was very short. The get-to-know the family part of the book was entertaining, but the ending could have
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been better developed and less abrupt.
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LibraryThing member acl
One of my favorite books as a child. Funny and touching. Very good for teaching about the civil rights movement without being too overtly "educational".
LibraryThing member buckeyeaholic
An African-American family in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement. They travel to Birmingham (obviously) & are touched by the church bombing. The family stories are funny and the lessons are touching. I listen to books on audio & mine was narrated by Lavar Burton. A perfect choice!
LibraryThing member elisemarie
A riveting story from the perspective of Kenny,a fourth grader blends the fictional account of an African American family with the factual events of the violent summer of 1963. His older brother, Byron, is sent away for a summer in Atlanta for his behavior. The trip to take him there places the
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family right in the midst of true, violent and life changing events.
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LibraryThing member MerryMary
A story about a wonderful family. It begins with such great humor. You find yourself laughing out loud. Then, when church is bombed in Birmingham and the girls are killed, the effect it has on the characters is so devastating you find yourself weeping.
LibraryThing member cemccamy
This book is about the Watsons, who move from Birmingham, Alabama during Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960's. They witness the horrific bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The book addresses issues during the 1960s and would be a great discussion book for older children.
LibraryThing member AuntKrissy
This novel has won the Newbery Honor (1996); Coretta Scott King Honor (Author, 1996); Golden Kite Award (Fiction, 1995); ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1996); A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (1996). The author won the Newbery Medal for Bud, Not Buddy.
LibraryThing member michaelsaalfrank
the family has to live during the time where blacks wernt treated right and this family
LibraryThing member katiejanelewis
The Watsons move from Flint, Michigan to the racially tense Birmingham, Alabama during the early 1960's. They are thrust into one of American history's most horrifying moments - the burning of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. This fictional novel addresses real life situations and issues during
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the 1960s, which makes for a great discussion and brings the story "home" to children.
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LibraryThing member kmsmith13
This book documents the life of an African American family in Michigan in 1963. When the Watson's take a trip to Birmingham they experience racism and a bombing. They stick together through tough times and racism.
LibraryThing member mlmcallister
This captivating book first allows you to get to know the crazy Watson family. After you spend time hearing their crazy antics, you get to ride right along with them to a major event in the civil rights movement. This book really gets children to see, understand, and feel what it was like to be in
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that time period from a family that was directly affected.
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LibraryThing member DuffieJ
The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 is a first hilarious, then tragic story of a roadtrip to Alabama undertaken by a family during the height of the civil rights movement. Kenny, the focus of Christopher Paul Curtis' award-winning book narrates the story. As a ten year-old Kenny's voice and his
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views are both believable and funny.
Towards the end of the book, the story takes a sad turn as the bombing of a neighborhood church in Alabama takes its toll on the family, particularly young Kenny. The book would be ideal for younger and older students and could be used as a springboard for class discussion.
Among many other accolades, The Watsons Go To Birmingham is both a Newbery Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King award-winner.
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LibraryThing member DBPeeples
This a great book that most students in this area can relate to. It tells of a family who is living in Flint, Michigan and goes to Alabama to get their younger son out to trouble. While in Alabama he stays with his grandmother and it tells of the historical struggles that black people faced during
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this time.
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LibraryThing member carsonleebarney
actually a very well written book. if you like historical fiction this is a good book for you


Nebraska Golden Sower Award (Nominee — 1999)
Young Hoosier Book Award (Nominee — Middle Grade — 1999)
Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Young Adult — 1998)
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award (Nominee — Grades 6-8 — 1998)
Newbery Medal (Honor Book — 1996)
Golden Kite Award (Winner — Fiction — 1996)
Nēnē Award (Nominee — 1999, 2000)
Coretta Scott King Award (Honor — 1996)
Grand Canyon Reader Award (Nominee — Teen — 1998)
Land Of Enchantment Book Award (Winner — Young Adult — 2000)
Jane Addams Children's Book Award (Honor Book — 1996)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Nominee — Grades 6-9 — 1998)
Flicker Tale Award (Nominee — Juvenile Books — 1997)
Maud Hart Lovelace Award (Nominee — 1999)
Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 1996)
Read Aloud Indiana Book Award (Middle School — 1996)


Original publication date


Physical description

210 p.; 5.27 inches


0440414121 / 9780440414124


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