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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2000
The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 By:Christopher PaulCurtis
If you're looking for a great book that you never want toput down, The Watsons Go to Birmingham is perfect. It is written by Christopher Paul Curtis. It's full of adventure, comedy, and tragedy. This book is based on the life of a black family in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. The book is narrated by one of the young family members, Kenny.
The family goes through many problems with Kenny's big brother Byron. Byron thinks he's so cool and thinks he can do whatever he wants including dying his hair, play with matches, and he does other stuff like kissing himself in the mirror. Kenny also has a mom who is very strict and a dad who is always positive. One more family member is Joetta. She is Kenny's younger sister and is very caring.One of the things we really enjoyed about this book was, that the author really expresses the character's characteristics.
The theme of this story is based on the Civil Rights Movement and family. The book goes through problems in both of these categories. Such as, bombings during the Civil Rights Movement, problems with Byron and Kenny, and so many more usual, and some unusual, problems. Many of the Watson family members change during the story. An example of this is, Byron changed from a disobedient child, to a mature, young man full of respect. The theme of this book really expresses the authors feelings on family and the Civil Rights Movement. Christopher Paul Curtis is a great author and uses many different "secrets" to make his writing as good as it is. First of all, he tells things like they are. There isn't any fantasy in this book and you can relate to the story. The Watsons are just like any family. They go through difficult times and good times. Curtis also does a good job of describing the things that are happening. For example, he told in detail what happened after the church was bombed and what Kenny saw while he was in the church. Curtis has humor in his book too. This makes a big difference, because it makes the book more interesting by making you laugh. Sometimes he uses humor to describe. Like when Byron got his lips stuck to the rearview mirror and Kenny said, "...Byron's lips stretched a mile before they finally let go of that mirror." One thing that we didn't care for about the book was that he didn't use any cliffhangers. We think that that is wanted in a good book, but otherwise it's a great book. We think Christopher Paul Curtis's life really relates to the book. Christopher Paul Curtis was born in the same place that the book took place, Flint, Michigan. He began working on the book The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 when he was in high school. He attended the University of Michigan, where he won the Avery Hopwood Prize for major essays and the Jules Hopwood Prize for an early draft of The Watsons Go to Birmingham. Curtis has won a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor for this book and it was named a Best Book of 1995. Christopher Paul Curtis currently lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada with his wife Kaysandra, and children Steven Darrel, 18 and Cydney McKenzie, who's four. Can't you see how Christopher Paul Curtis's life really reflects on this book?

The Watsons Go to Birmingham is a great book that is worth the reading. We would rate this book an eight on a scale of one to ten with ten being the highest. We would rate it this because, the author has well-developed characters, great describing and really expresses his feelings about family and the Civil Rights Movement You learn many things from this book about appreciating your family and will learn that you never know what you've got until it's gone.
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183 of 217 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2009
I bought a whole set of the Watson's Go To Birmingham to share with my students. Knowing it was an award winner and covered the topic of racism, I was counting on a delightful read. By the end of the first chapter, I felt like I had a gem. The writer is clearly a master story teller. I laughed along with the characters as the two brothers and little sister tortured, tricked, and mocked one another in the typical way siblings do. I loved Mamma and Daddy's playful comments and the way the entire family was portrayed as colorful, real, and multidimensional.

Therefore, it may surprise you that I don't read this book in class. I was overwhelmed and disappointed that a gifted writer chose to use so many curses throughout the book and so many sensitive topics. There are over ten examples of the children using foul language. Two ten year old boys get excited about going to the club house to look at books of 'nekkid' ladies and remark that the older brother keeps some copies of such materials in his own bedroom for he and his friends. Also, Dad puts his hand on mom's chest when he think his children don't see (which Kenny does).

I'm a teacher. I work with children every day. I'm not blind to the fact the our children see these things on TV, encounter them in the home, and even come across them on the school field. However, as one who believes we should do better by our children, I am disappointed by the material Curtis has chosen to include in his work. Seeing descriptions in print and visualizing the pictures in the mind (which is a great aspect of books) is very powerful - even more so, I believe, than on TV, which children have learned to tune out. As an educator, I refuse to have my students visualize the things Curtis includes.

Too bad because it would have been a great book.
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67 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2001
In 1963, I was a white kid attending a predominantly black junior high school in Seattle. "The Watson's Go To Birmingham-1963" rings true to what I saw and experienced in those days.
It's true that this story doesn't have much of a plot in the usual sense, but then how many families have lives that are neatly plotted out? Instead we see episodes in the life of nerdish Kenny Watson, his older brother Byron who is always getting into trouble, his little sister "Joey" who is a little angel, their Momma who still has some of the old South in her, and Dad, a loving, but sometimes stern, man.
This is an important piece of historical fiction. It shows an intact African-American family, struggling with many of the same things families of other races were dealing with in those days, however one is given a taste of their fear of racial violence as Momma and Dad plan--and take--their trip into the deep South to visit Grandma Sands during those turbulent times.
This is an important book, but one I can only recommend with reservations. Some of the situations, and more especially some of the crude language used by Byron and his friends, would cause me to give it a PG rating. I think it's unfortunate that some authors of children's books think it's OK to use language that most educators are otherwise discouraging students from using.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Much like Curtis's other hit, "Bud, Not Buddy", "The Watsons" explores the everyday life of African Americans in Flint, Michigan. Also like "Bud", the book has probably garnered some criticism for its portrayal, or lack thereof, of active racism. No character in this book ever confronts an actual racist personally. Though the boys attend public school, there isn't even the slightest indication that Flint was any different then than it is today in terms of racial strife. The family does stop briefly in Appalachia, fearing unseen racists in the woods about them, but that's the closest any plot point comes to it. Just the same, the action in these stories is concerned primarily with the interactions between family members, and I am reluctant to criticize Curtis's choice of dramatic tensions. This is a story I've never seen told in a children's novel, let alone told so well. The character of By is more than just a two-dimensional bully, and the stories are downright fascinating in a couple instances. Finally, I appreciated that the narrator is affected realistically in reaction to the 1963 Birmingham church bombing. His nervous breakdown is done with dignity. I've only a small qualm with the unexplained event of the boy's sister claiming he drew her out of the church before the bombing. What does this mean? It's left unclear, though By makes it perfectly obvious that no supernatural occurrence has taken place. This book would either pair well with other stories taking place in 1963, "Through My Eyes", being only one example. It would also pair well with some sort of a buddy story like the "Soup" books. Or it would go well with "Stories Julian Tells", as a series of tales that take place between brothers. Reading this book aloud would also work very well. Because of its humor, it's a wonderful story.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2004
The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 is an awesome book. The story is told by the eyes of a boy named Kenneth Watson. He and his family, Byron, Joetta, mom and dad live in freezing Flint. They decide to go to Birmingham because of Byron's behavior. Byron was pretending to make a movie called Nazi Parachutes Attack America and Get Shot Down over the Flint River by Captain Byron Watson and his Flame-thrower of Death. He made a lot of toilet paper parachutes and would light them with matches and then drop them into the toilet and hear the go whoosh when it hit the water. The main setting in this book is in Birmingham and in the Watson's house. While at Birmingham the kids learned a lot about the cruel world back then. One of the things that they learned was that some and most whites hate black and will do anything to stop them from getting a good education. Even blow them up if that is a choice. Which it was a choice during the Civil Rights movement. One day when Joey was going to Sunday school, she got there and decided not to go since it was so hot. A couple of minutes later a group of white men drove by and threw a bomb into the church and injured and killed many little kids. This book was an awesome book and I recommend this book to everyone young to old. I feel that it would be a great thing for people to read it was funny, sad, and happy and almost every emotion you could think of. I hope you get something out of this review and enjoy this book as much as I did.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2000
This book was a great tribute to the four littl girls thatt were killed in the bombing in Birmingham, 1963. I was a little confused as to how Joetta (Kenny's, or the main character's) little sister escaped from the bomb. I was also confused by the "Wool Pooh", but my curiosity to comprehend kept me involved in the book. I loved this book, and in fact, a friend and I are recommending it in our school newspaper for the people of the world. I loved the book! I think that there should be a sequel. Keep writing, Christopher Paul Curtis! And I'll keep reading!
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 1999
This was a great book about racial injustice and family. Although it was set in the '60's,the story felt just as real as if it were occuring right now. It was very funny,especially when Byron got in trouble for staging WWII battles in the bathroom and got his lips stuck to the car mirror. When I read the book in reading period,I often began having laugh attacks and had to cover them with fake coughing spells. I understood Kenny's depression after the bombing. However,the Wool Pooh scenes were vague. Who was he really? What about Kenny's vision? Overall,though,this was a wonderful,entertaining book. It conveyed the message of racial tolerance without preachiness and showed how alike we all are inside.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2013
Curtis' debut novel, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM--1963, won the Newbery Medal right off--thus validating his literary talents and encouraging him to write more! Some middle schoolers may be turned off by the simple words, "Historical Fiction," but this is not your typical H-F novel, where the author is limited to actual events and only gets to create the characters whom he sets into real situations. Yes, it is truly based on shockingly violent historical fact in the second half, but it is a lesson kids will learn in Back Studies or Sixties Social Studies eventually. Grim and gruesome to be sure, but definitely not boring!

Narrated by 9 year-old Kenny--a flippantly observant, pesky little
brother, the controversial story opens in Flint, Michigan. The first part of the book is absolutely hilarious--with no hint of the impending drama of the bloody race riots. After highly amusing family exploits of sibling nonsense Kenny concludes that his older brother, Byron is getting out of hand with his increasingly serous teenage trouble. So the exasperate but loving parents decide to take the whole family on a Road Trip down to Grandmamma in Alabama. With her no-nonsense style of discipline she will take a serious stand to provide a quick fix to make Byron shape up into a good family citizen. (So much for the adorable Humor....)

The second half of the book deals with their visit in the deep South (something new for northern Blacks who are used to being treated more like other folks), but here is where this nice family collides with inexoralbe historical fact: On September 15, racists bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church--callously killing four little girls. The family is terrified that their youngest, Joetta, was among the victims.

Coping with senseless loss of life and sacred property the family is stunned. More to the point: both wayward Byron and cocky Kenny realize that their own lives were somehow changed that evil day. Imagine going through life being afraid of death or targeted for torture--just because one is Black! Perhaps Curtis deliberately wanted to counterbalance the deadly denouement by introducing the Watsons with their crazy anecdotes--possibly from his own family's Humor Archives. But the very end of the
story takes readers beyond racila pain--into the realm of the paranormal; surreal events occur which defy the laws of nature. Despite the slight literary confusion
this book is a winner in every sense of the word. Hopefully no other innocent children will have to relive the bigotry of Birmingham. Humor--with a punch in the social gut. Foir kids of all ages!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2001
In his book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, Christopher Paul Curtis creates a wonderful story of family that prompts a reader's desire to be part of the "weird Watsons," traveling in the great Brown Bomber, listening to "Yakety Yak" on the Ultra-Glide, and even falling for thirteen-year-old Byron's tall tales and antics. Not only is Curtis a master at telling his story, he also carefully engages his readers in the experience of a tragic episode of racial tension from the perspective of ten-year-old Kenny Watson. When Kenny believes that his younger sister Joetta may have been among the victims in the bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, he is overcome with fear and its shame. This distressful event triggers something in Byron which matures him into the brother who pulls Kenny through this difficult time. As Kenny is restored to the normal activities of his family, he begins to see them from a lovingly different perspective. This is a memorable story of family and friendship built between brothers, a touching contrast to the lasting impression of a senseless tragedy that should never have happened. Christopher Paul Curtis has produced in The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 a beautifully written story that will be loved by young teens and adults as well!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2010
In some ways, this is an excellent book, for use in schools as well as for recreational reading. It shows a loving and stable black family and the freedoms and challenges they have living in a northern state in 1963. The narrator of the story is Kenny, a smart, put upon kid, with a younger sister and an older brother, who the book mostly revolves around. Byron is 13 and in trouble all the time, and apparently on the edge of moving beyond childish pranks to real trouble; a reference to an unnamed "problem" with a girl, joining a gang, thieving and assault. Byron seems to have respect for no one or anything, and it doesn't look like his ways are going to change. The family decides to take him to Birmingham to spend the summer, and maybe the next school year, with his maternal grandmother, who they hope will straighten him out.

This is where it begins not to make sense. Kenny says that Byron, upon meeting his grandmother, is transformed and is polite and respectful. This is hard to believe. There is a long bit about the "Wool Pooh" which lost me, and then the Sunday morning the young sister goes to the church that is bombed, killing four little girls. More Wool Pooh stuff with Kenny, and then everyone, including Byron, is back home in Michigan, with Kenny trying to figure life out behind the couch.

It is important that the book make sense, chronologically as well as emotionally, and this did not. How would Byron immediately change his behavior completely? How could the Watsons have been there for the bombing, which took place in September, if they had just arrived at the beginning of summer? If the whole family was there all summer, why didn't we see any progression of the "new" Byron, or what they found life like in Birmingham, or why they would still be there in September, with Kenny and Joetta needing to be back in school? Why would northern parents send their problem son to a deeply prejudiced South, where a black boy or man could be killed just for looking at someone the wrong way? Why didn't the author feel it important to have the timeline feel accurate?

Other issues presented well, and good for discussion is as said, the difference in the freedoms of those living in the north and south, the reality that black travelers faced with having to plan carefully as to where they could stop for food or lodging in the south, and the impact the bombing had on the boys, being unaware of what those in the south had to live with daily. I wasn't sure if Byron's comments on the church bombers were profound or hypocritical, since he had been on the road to criminal behavior himself. Another good point was Kenny's being proud of his intelligence and academic ability. This is not something that seems to be valued often by some in the black community.

I think it is a shame that some people seem to be getting hung up on the language as inappropriate, when for one thing, people talked as they talked, and the extremely minor bad language is practically innocent compared to what we hear today. It's not the most important thing about this book.
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