The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963

watsons go to birmingham

When I heard that this novel has been made into a movie and will soon air on the Hallmark Channel, I wanted to read it before watching the movie. I’d seen it on YA shelves for years, but knowing what happened in Birmingham in 1963, I resisted reading it. The bombing of the church which killed four young girls during the Civil Rights era remains a deeply dark event that breaks my heart each time I consider it. This book, however, allows us to ease into the tragedy as it follows the humorous adventures of the “Weird Watsons” in Flint, Michigan in the early 1960s. The narrator is ten year old Kenny who has a number of “problems” that make him the target of bullies. One of the bullies, through most of the book, is his cool (a school “god”) older brother, Byron. It is Byron and his attraction to trouble that leads the family to make a road trip to Alabama, their mother’s childhood home. It is there that the family comes face to face with one of the darkest times in American history. The last two chapters of the book are about dealing with pain and healing, even when there are no easy answers.
The characters in this novel are richly written. The settings in Flint, Birmingham, and even the road trip are described wonderfully. The male main characters have “boy appeal.”  Teachers who cover the Civil Rights era cannot go wrong incorporating this into that unit. I recommend this excellent novel for 5th through 8th graders.

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