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The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 Book Poster Image
A funny novel with a devastating emotional punch.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 24 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 66 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

The history of one family's past is rich with important lessons on the changing times of the last century.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Byron steals, plays with matches, and is disrespectful.


A church bombing is described, and the narrator's older brother fights. Kenny nearly drowns, and his sister is believed to have died in a bombing.


Byron is described as swearing and making obscene gestures; mild religiously themed profanity.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHkboo2 January 31, 2009
Adult Written bypopmom February 24, 2010

Great for tweens and teens

This book is good for older kids. It tells life how it really is not how it is in some fantsies. It also has a very good message.
Kid, 10 years old January 30, 2010

Better For OLDER Kids

I didn't like this very much. I think this is iffy for kids age 10. Some of the things in here really bothered me; when the mom tries to burn one of her ki... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byFSDVNCUJFEVNIU May 15, 2012

Don't Read

The story”The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” isn’t that great of a book. It shouldn’t be for anyone under 10 at least. There is language used by a character in the... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about coping with terrible events.

  • Kenny tries to cope by hiding. Why doesn't that work?

  • Has a family

  • member or friend ever helped you work through painful emotions?

Book details

For kids who love history

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