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Literature / The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963

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The Watsons Go To Birmingham- 1963 is a Middle Grade novel by Christopher Paul Curtis. It earned a Newberry Honor, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and the Golden Kite Award.

The year is 1963, and Kenny thinks that his older brother is itching for trouble. Byron is always doing dumb stuff to look cool and expects his family to bail him out. After one-too-many pranks, his parents decide to spend the summer in Birmingham to shape up Byron. It turns out their timing coincides with racial tensions in the Deep South.


Tropes for this book include:

  • Big Brother Instinct:
    • Kenny runs into the church after the bombing happens to look for Joetta. Joetta later says that she saw Kenneth telling him to come out of the church and that saved her life.
    • Byron goes to check on Kenny when his little brother spends months hiding behind the couch and trying to talk to him about what happened. He acknowledges there are bad people in the world.
  • Cool Big Bro: Byron eventually matures into this. When he finds Kenneth hiding behind the couch, Byron coaxes him by saying that Kenneth somehow saved Joetta's life and that it wasn't his fault the bombing happened.
  • Death of a Child: The church bombing, which kills two girls shortly after Sunday School finishes. Kenny freaks out and walks into the aftermath trying to find Joetta. Then he walks home in shock, and his family is horrified that he witnessed the horrors. His mother and father are relieved neither Kenny nor Joetta was hurt but don't know how to talk about what happened.
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  • Death By Newberry Medal: Some girls get killed in the church bombing, and Kenneth is worried that Joetta was caught in it as well. Even after it turns out Joetta was fine, Kenneth is very shaken when the family returns home to Flint. Byron admits he doesn't know why someone would want to kill little girls.
  • For Want of a Nail: If Byron hadn't been acting up, his family wouldn't have visited Birmingham during the summer.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Kenneth misunderstands a lot of information about the world:
    • When told to stay away from the whirlpool, Kenny thinks that the adults mean "Wool-Pooh" and it's a monster in the water. Later, he thinks that the Wool-Pooh nearly killed Joetta and is in Heroic BSoD about it.
    • He also notes that the pets hide behind the couch and come out better. Kenny dubs the space behind the couch the "World' Best Animal Hospital" in the hopes of feeling better about what he saw.
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  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is the Wool-Pooh real? And if so, was it trying to kill Joetta, or did it save her? Kenny thinks that the Wool-Pooh was trying to kill Joetta since it was holding her sock, but she says that she saw a vision of Kenneth telling her to leave the church. Plus, as Byron puts it, there's no such thing as a Wool-Pooh. So if it wasn't a monster, who told Joetta to get out of the church?