Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford. Wordsong, 2007, 2023. 9781662660030

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

Format: Paperback

Genre: Historical fiction

What did you like about the book? This fictionalized first person account of the September 15, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama uses free verse and archival photographs to depict not just the horror of that day, but the political and social climate of the setting, as well as the emotional aftermath of the event.  A young girl briefly describes her experiences with segregation and civil rights activism – joining the Children’s March, listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. speak – leading up to the fateful day, which also happens to be her 10th birthday.  Attending church with her family, she first goes to Sunday School, and while excitedly waiting for worship services to begin, she spies four older girls giggling on their way to the restroom.  And then, “seconds later, a blast rocked the church.”  That blast killed the four girls and wounded many other church-goers, and sent shockwaves throughout the community and across the nation.

The design of the book is simple and straightforward, as is the phrasing, which allows the reader to really absorb the terrible nature of what happened, and imagine its impact.  The 10-year-old narrator is also a very effective means of evoking empathy among the target audience.  The left hand page of each page spread consists of a few lines of the lyrical yet stoic narration, most beginning with the phrase “The day I turned ten…”  The text is set across a light gray background, with a small, iconic image representing the childhood of the narrator as well as the girls who died – a pair of white patent-leather shoes, a game of jacks, a locket. The right side of the spread features a historical photo corresponding to the text, many of which are quite startling, such as the picture of the stained glass church window, intact except for the face of Jesus.  The book concludes with memorial tributes to Addie Mae, Denise, Cynthia, and Carole, the girls who died, in four separate poems describing their personalities and their favorite things, and speculating on what they might have become.  An extensive author’s note provides useful context for readers unfamiliar with the story, and there is also a page describing each of the photographs and listing recommended books and websites.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No

To whom would you recommend this book?  It is appropriate for students in grade 3 and up, and an essential read aloud for all upper elementary classrooms learning about the civil rights movementIt is an obvious choice to use as a companion piece to a novel unit on The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 (Curtis) or other historical fiction focusing on the time period, and will certainly provoke discussion and further research.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  811 or 976.1

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: March 22, 2023

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Author, Carole Boston Weatherford, Civil Rights, Historical fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.