The Watsons Go to Birmingham – Christopher Paul Curtis

  The Watsons Go to Birmingham – Christopher Paul Curtis, Penguin Random House LLC, 9780593306499, c1995, 2020

Format: Soft-cover 

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

 Genre: Historical fiction

 What did you like about the book? I have always wanted to transport myself to the 1960s. As a lover of civil rights history I am always curious about that time period and how families lived and existed during that time. Although the majority of this book focuses on Byron and his misbehavior we do get a very intense inside view of life for black people in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. We are introduced to the Watson family, who as a black woman raising a black son it was charming to read about this black family loving, living and navigating parenthood. As an adult reading the book I was more tired of the character development of the Watson parents. Parents who feel like they have tried everything to keep Byron out of trouble in Flint, Michigan. I also thought it was so important that this story also highlights the lives of Black families living in Flint, Michigan. Nonetheless, Byron’s parents have had enough of their son’s mis-adventures and have decided more than half way through the text that the family will take a trip to Birmingham, Alabama and that Byron would get left there with their grandmother. The road trip scenes were quite funny because I love road trips. I was in love with Wilona’s excitement to tell her kids about different important historical places and facts for the states they drive through. The kids are totally annoyed by this but it paints a picture of black families that is often not read about in young adult books.  Once they get to Birmingam Bryon is a completely different child, it almost seems like just from the couple of hours they arrived he was a changed boy! The most pivotal part of the text were the almost drowning of the narrator Kenny and the church bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The Watson family realized that living surrounded by the racism of the deep south was not where they wanted to be nor how they wanted to teach Byron to act better at home. I do feel like the book starts to introduce a conversation around racial trauma for black people that it does not fully get to unravel for the reader. 

Anything you did not like about the book? At first I was really curious about when the connection to Birmingham would come into the narrative. It did seem like it took a little long to get to that connection in the story. 

 To whom would you recommend this book? I would recommend this book to a reader who is looking for a child’s perspective on what it was to be a black child in 1963. It would also be a great text for a history teacher to use to look at the difference in race relations of the midwest (Flint) and the South (Birmingham). 

Who should buy this book? Middle Schools 

Where would you shelve it? J Fiction

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No 

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Rose Metayer, Boston Latin School, Boston MA

Date of review: 1/3/2021

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