Sunday, March 04, 2007

Review: The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

#7 for the year: The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963,
by Christopher Paul Curtis

Pages: 210

Date Finished: 03/04/2007

Genre: children's lit

Rating: 7 of 10 (good)

Reason: Teaching it

Thoughts: I knew from the get-go that this book was about the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. I assumed the actual event would play a much larger part, and while that would've been fine with me, I was equally pleased--and more than a little surprised--to discover that this book actually revolves around a fictional family that makes a trip to Birmingham and unwittinginly stumbles into an historic moment.

The "Weird Watsons" as they're called in their Flint, Michigan neighborhood are endearing and
delightful. Mother, Wilona; father, Daniel; sons, Byron and Kenny; and daughter, Joetta are a tightly knit, fun-loving group until Byron, the oldest of the children, begins to find himself in constant trouble doing, as they say, what little boys do: taking change from his mother's purse, disappearing with friends, pyromania, and generally sulking. After he pushes his mother and father one step too far, they pack up the "Brown Bomber" family car and head to Alabama with plans to leave Byron with his grandmother for the summer.

The story is told through the eyes of Kenny, and one quickly falls in love with his family. The Weird Watsons are an all-American family during a time in American history when African Americans were considered anything but all-American. The normalcy and compassion the family
represent are a lesson for children in themselves, and the fact that the Watsons are largely divorced from
the racial politics of the Civil Rights Movement as a result of their residence in Michigan, makes the harsh realities of Birmingham and bigotry all the more powerful and painful to read.

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