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The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963
Contributor(s): Curtis, Christopher Paul

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ISBN: 044022800X     ISBN-13: 9780440228004
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
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Binding Type: Paperback - See All Available Formats & Editions
Published: January 2001

Annotation: A wonderful middle-grade novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny's 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma's church is blown up.
Additional Information
Dewey: FIC
Academic/Grade Level: Grade 10-12, Age 15-18
Book type: Juvenile Fiction
Physical Information: 7.00" H x 4.50" W x 0.75" (0.25 lbs)
Descriptions, Reviews, Etc.

Contributor Bio(s): Christopher Paul Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan, and grew up there. Bud, Not Buddy, his second novel, winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award, is available in a Delacorte hardcover edition.

Reviewed by Horn Book Guide Reviews (Horn Book Guide Reviews 1996)
A novel that begins as a lighthearted romp follows ten-year-old Kenny and the rest of the ""Weird Watsons"" of Flint, Michigan, as they travel South in 1963 and become witnesses of a tragic event of the civil-rights movement. Curtis has created a wholly original novel in this warmly memorable evocation of an African-American family and their experiences that are both terrible and transcendent. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

Reviewed by Horn Book Magazine Reviews (Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1996 #2)
This impressive first novel begins as a lighthearted, episodic family story narrated by ten-year-old Kenny Watson. Most of Kenny's problems revolve around his older brother Byron, at thirteen "officially a teenage juvenile delinquent." Although he makes life miserable for Kenny, Byron is constantly in trouble: lighting fires, cutting school, and having his hair straightened into a "conk" against the express wishes of his parents. These early chapters are hilarious, especially the one in which the narcissistic Byron gets his lips frozen to the side-view mirror of the family car while giving himself a kiss. But the tone changes after the Watson parents decide that they've had enough of Byron's "latest fantastic adventures" and drive the family from Flint, Michigan, down to Birmingham, Alabama, where they plan to have strict Grandma Sands shape Byron up. There Kenny has his first encounter with the darker elements lurking under the surface of life. Although he has been warned away from one particular swimming hole because of whirlpools, Kenny disobeys and almost drowns, pulled under by the "Wool Pooh" (Winnie-the-Pooh's evil twin, a Byron fabrication intended to scare Kenny away from the dangerous swimming hole). As the book moves further from the comic to the tragic, the Wool Pooh makes another devastating appearance, this time at the bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, where four little girls are killed. Kenny sinks into a deep depression, and - not so unexpectedly - it is Byron who pulls him out, with reassurances that his "baby bruh" is going to be all right, and with ruminations on the unfairness of life: "Kenny, things ain't ever going to be fair. How's it fair that two grown men could hate Negroes so much that they'd kill some kids just to stop them from going to school? . . . But you just gotta understand that that's the way it is and keep on steppin'." Curtis's control of his material is superb as he unconventionally shifts tone and mood, as he depicts the changing relationship between the two brothers, and as he incorporates a factual event into his fictional story. His use of the "Wool Pooh" as the personification of evil is effective and chilling. Curtis has created a wholly original novel in this warmly memorable evocation of an African-American family and their experiences both terrible and transcendent. m.v.p. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly Reviews (PW Reviews 1997 October #4)
A 1996 Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor book, this comic tale, narrated by a 10-year-old boy, describes an eccentric family's unwitting trip South to visit Grandma during one of the stormiest times of the Civil Rights movement. PW's boxed, starred review called it "an exceptional first novel." Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

Reviewed by School Library Journal Reviews (SLJ Reviews 1995 October)
Gr 6 Up?Kenny's family is known in Flint, Michigan, as the Weird Watsons, for lots of good reasons. Younger sister Joetta has been led to believe she has to be overdressed in the winter because Southern folks (their mother is from Alabama) freeze solid and have to be picked up by the city garbage trucks. Kenny, the narrator, does well in school and tries to meet his hard-working parents' expectations. After a string of misdeeds, Mr. and Mrs. Watson decide that tough guy, older brother Byron must be removed from the bad influences of the city and his gang. They feel that his maternal grandmother and a different way of life in Birmingham might make him appreciate what he has. Since the story is set in 1963, the family must make careful preparations for their trip, for they cannot count on food or housing being available on the road once they cross into the South. The slow, sultry pace of life has a beneficial effect on all of the children until the fateful day when a local church is bombed, and Kenny runs to look for his sister. Written in a full-throated, hearty voice, this is a perfectly described piece of past imperfect. Curtis's ability to switch from fun and funky to pinpoint-accurate psychological imagery works unusually well. Although the horrific Birmingham Sunday throws Kenny into temporary withdrawl, this story is really about the strength of family love and endurance. Ribald humor, sly sibling digs, and a totally believable child's view of the world will make this book an instant hit.?Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY

Reviewed by School Library Journal Reviews (SLJ Reviews 2000 February)
Gr 5-8-In the only Newbery Honor book to make my list, the weighty issues and historical perspectives don't get in the way of a very funny family. Byron plays some awful tricks on his younger brother Kenny, but readers can't help but laugh at some of his less harmful teasing. He tells a convincing story to little sister Joey about how garbage trucks scoop up frozen Southern folks who don't dress warmly enough, and half-fools Kenny with his tall tale. While the boys supply many of the laughs, it's clear that they get their sense of humor from their dad. His gentle teasing and tongue-in-cheek exaggerations can be hilarious. Laughter and Tears Award: More than any other book on my list, the humor in The Watsons shifts to near tragedy and many thought-provoking developments. The serious stuff succeeds in part because readers grow so close to this family through the humor that comes earlier in the book. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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