Monday, July 28, 2008

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963; Christopher Paul Curtis

1. Bibliography:

Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. New York: Scholastic, Inc: 1998.

2. Genre and Awards:

Historical Fiction. Adolescent Literature.

Newbery Honor Book. Coretta Scott King Honor Book. An ALA Best Book for Young Adults. An ALA Notable Book.

3. Synopsis:

The Weird Watsons hail from Flint, Michigan. In 1963, it’s off to grandmother’s house they go. This isn’t like any old visit home, though. They head south to Birmingham, Alabama right into the heart of Civil Rights.

4. Characters:

Kenny Watson is the main character and narrator of the novel. Kenny sort of has it rough, as he’s the younger brother, the awkward kid, the black kid, and has a lazy eye – all issues that plague him throughout the story. Byron is his older brother and the reason the family is headed to Alabama – he’s being banished to stay the summer there, because he’s been in some trouble and is running with a dangerous crowd. The third sibling in this family is Joetta, who is your typical kindergartener – she makes us laugh, she cries, and she’s the center of the action at the climax of the book.

5. Plot:

The plot of The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 is centered around the trip, but a good deal of the novel is spent familiarizing readers with the Watsons’ family dynamics and setting them up as a strong family unit. This unit will prove critical as the family leaves their home and travels to a place that is very different and much more dangerous. The action culminates in an event of violent racial terrorism at the end of the novel, out of which Kenny can’t tell if his family made it alive.

6. Needs of Adolescents:

This book addresses racial tensions and the effects those have on young people in a very personal way, which is something many students deal with everyday. It also really highlights the familial connections, especially sibling relationships, which are also an area in which a lot of kids need a place to connect, vent, or just process their own experiences.

7. Possible Classroom Uses:

I would love to do a unit in my classroom on the sixties. There are so many topical directions to go from there (Civil Rights, environmentalism, space exploration, Communism/politics, pop culture – to name a few) and I can see working any number of types of writing into it. It would be really great if one component of that could be Literature Circles and this book could be one option. I could see this as a read-aloud book in a middle school and definitely a recommendation for individual reading.

8. Appropriate Age Range:

Middle school or Junior high.

9. Personal Reactions:

I loved this story. It was truly heartbreaking to see the adjustments that Kenny saw his family go through as they moved into an area that was so significantly less accepting than what they were used to. I can see so many connections between this book and The Giver as well as Sold, because of the way readers get to really connect with a narrator who is sorting out his or her world – much like so many voices in adolescent literature – but these especially seem to be plagued by an overwhelming sense of lost-ness in a way that really gets me!


dingo47 said...

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Scott said...

I've heard some great things about this book, and after your review, I'm going to give it a try (you know, when I find some time, at some point, in maybe a year or so :). I love the fact that there are so many classroom uses for the book, and you provide some great ideas for using the book outside of its inherent literary element.

stephstidham said...

Thanks for your posts! Sounds like a good one! I am with Scott, someday I might like to read it. I am planning on letting myself read "breaking dawn" and then that is about it for pleasure reading, right? I love the ideas of the read aloud. I will definitely give this one a look.

DMWB*Reads said...

Tying The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 to a unit on the sixties is a fantastic idea. So many creative writing ideas could flow from your students in that kind of environment. I sometimes wonder though if kids will know about flower power and hippies and that sort of thing. Obviously The Watsons Go to Birmingham is not about flower power, but just a random thought I had after reading your idea.