Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Watsons go to Birmingham - 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis

Even though young Kenny calls his family “The Weird Watsons”, they seem to be a typical African-American family living in Flint, Michigan.  Kenny’s a middle child, surrounded by his big brother Byron and his little sister Joetta.  Byron tends to be a troublemaker, so his parents think it might do him some good to get out of the big city and spend a little time living with his grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama.  The family enjoys adjusting to a different pace of life down south, in a peaceful place where kids are free to go swimming outdoors or to hunt squirrels.  The kids are loving life in their new environment, at least until the peace and quiet is shattered one Sunday morning when the children get an up-close reminder that not everyone in Alabama supports the civil rights movement.

Some readers might complain that this book takes a while to get going, and that may be a valid argument.  After all, it’s not until halfway through the book when the Watsons actually leave home on their trip to Birmingham!  I didn’t mind the pacing at all, though, since I really enjoyed the chance to get acquainted with the Watson children.  At some points I was laughing out loud, and it almost felt like I was sharing their living room with them!   To be honest, I think that Mr. Curtis probably structured his book this way on purpose.  By allowing us to spend so much time with the Watsons up front, he lets us identify more closely with the real people whose lives were impacted by the violence of 1963.  Without this type of character development, the real people who were injured or killed during the civil rights struggle might be in danger of being overlooked.  If our generation didn’t know their stories, these people might be seen as nothing more than names in a history book.  By reading Mr. Curtis’ book, we’re able to understand that these victims were real people who left behind families when they died.

I was completely thrilled by the two books of Mr. Curtis’ that I’ve read so far, and I’m going to do my best to read everything that he puts out.  If you’re looking to take a closer look at some of the most important periods in American history, then you’re more than welcome to join me!

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