The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go To Birmingham- 1963. Random House Children’s Books, 1997. 224 pages. pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-440-41412-4.
Annotation: A black family from Michigan decides to spend the summer in Alabama during 1963 when racism and civil rights tensions are high. Their grandmother’s church is bombed and the impact of violence will prove to strengthen their family’s love and endurance.
Summary: A middle class black family from Flint Michigan decides to spend the summer in Birmingham, Alabama during the year 1963. Kenny’s older brother, Byron, is getting into too much trouble with city life and gangs and needs to be straightened out by his strong grandma. Kenny, the narrator, tells of his family’s experiences, both humorous and tragic as they deal with both northern and southern racism. Curtis writes thoughtfully about family relations, civil rights, and the impact of violence. When a local church is bombed and the whereabouts of Kenny’s sister, Joetta, is uncertain, the strength of family love and endurance is revealed. The story is especially compelling because it is a fictional account of an actual event- the September 15th, 1963 bombing of the 16th Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham which killed four teenage girls.
Evaluation: This well-written book is both funny and serious. The reader gets to know what a wonderfully wacky family the Watson’s are and share in their sorrow when violence erupts upon this undeserving family. The family comedy turns into a national tragedy with hope for a future filled with equality and acceptance. Recommended for ages 10 to 16.
Genre / Subject: Juvenile Fiction, Historical, Family, Racism, African Americans, Violence
Awards: 1995 Golden Kite Award Winner- Fiction, 1996 Newbery Award Honor Book, 1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award, 1996 Jane Addams Children’s Honor Book Award, 1996 ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 1996 ALA Notable Children’s Book