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The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the language and writing are rich, capturing the immediacy of a young boy's thoughts, but the style sometimes overwhelms the story. This first-person account, written in the slang of a 10-year-old boy, examines how he and his family react to a pivotal moment in civil rights history.
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What's the story?
They're called Weird Watsons, and sometimes Kenny, Joetta, and delinquent big brother Byron, deserve the name, like when Byron gets his lips frozen to a car mirror while he's practicing kissing. But when they visit Grandma Sands in Birmingham, they head into a nightmare. At first hilarious, but by the end devastatingly powerful, Curtis's first novel packs a terrific punch.
Ten-year-old Kenny introduces readers to his family; his parents, little sister Joetta, and tough, cool, delinquent-wannabe Byron. When Byron's antics escalate, though they are mild by today's standards, his parents decide he needs a dose of the iron hand of Grandma Sands. So they load up the car and head off to Birmingham for the summer.
Humorous incidents abound, but when the Watsons arrive in Alabama, they find themselves caught up in something far more serious than dealing with a mildly delinquent adolescent. Racists bomb Grandma Sands's church, and Kenny's little sister is feared dead. Kenny, who witnessed what happened, sinks into depression and believes that only magic can heal him. But when his parents don't know how to help him, he finds comfort in the words of the person he least expected.
Is it any good?
Most of the book is hilarious, told in Kenny's distinctive and believable voice. But when the family travels South, and Joetta heads off to Sunday School in Birmingham, readers who know a bit of history think they know what's coming. When Joetta is not killed in the church bombing, readers heave a sigh of relief, and the family heads back to Michigan for the last chapter of what now seems like an enjoyable but lightweight book.
And then the author wallops readers with an emotional sucker-punch. For Kenny saw the results of the bombing, and he is no longer whole. No one knows what is wrong or what to do about it, as he drifts further and further away, hidden behind the couch where he believes magical powers will somehow heal him. But in an emotionally wrenching scene, tough, bad, kindhearted Byron figures out what is going on and, in his casual, undemonstrative way, knows just what to do about it.
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For kids who love history
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