- Christopher Paul Curtis
Publication Date: 1995-09-01
What will get you picked on quicker than being smart? Being smart and having a lazy eye. Meet Kenny Watson; age 10, middle child and the main voice of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963”. Kenny is a good kid who does well in school, helps take care of his younger sister and loves his family. However, Flint, MI is not an easy place to grow up. Kenny is a favorite target of the bullies at school who mock him about his eye and call him Poindexter. The teasing doesn’t stop when he gets home because Kenny is also the favorite target of his mean older brother, By. This book is largely told around Kenny’s walking us through what happened and it can take some time for him to tell it. He is nothing, if not thorough. When Kenny’s brother By becomes more trouble than his parents can handle, Mom and Dad Watson decide he needs to go and stay with family in Alabama. The whole family is going to take him there and the trip becomes an adventure made by the Dad’s purchase of an Ultra-Glide record player and Mom’s notebook which carefully breaks down where they can stop, who eats a peanut butter sandwich on the first day and tuna on the next. Just as the Michigan Watsons are acclimating to the Birmingham heat, a terrible act of violence makes them rethink their plans to leave By there for the summer. Kenny and his family reel from the aftershocks and the book takes on a somber and then healing tone.
This is a good book for trying to explain the desegregated South to young children as it is told by a naïve and sheltered child himself. I found it to be insightful and funny and geared towards older elementary readers. (The language can get a bit salty). Kenny Watson is an underdog kind of kid who doesn’t rise to amazing feats; he simply endures what comes at him and keeps on going, which is a great lesson in itself.
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