The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.
A wonderful middle-grade novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny's 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up.
What the....? That's not the book I remember. *Goes to bookshelf. Looks at back cover.*
Enter the hilarious world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. There's Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron, who's thirteen and an "official juvenile delinquent." When Momma and Dad decide it's time for a visit to Grandma, Dad comes home with the amazing Ultra-Glide, and the Watsons set out on a trip like no other. They're heading South. They're going to Birmingham, Alabama, toward one of the darkest moments in America's history.
Now that's the story I remember! Barnes and Noble=Synopsis Fail. On with the review...
This book is hilarious. I first read it in 5th grade and the first chapter STILL cracks me up. It's just plain funny. At the same time, it deals with the subject of racism in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and specifically with the church bombing in Birmingham, when four little girls were killed. This book is the definition of heart-warming, in more than one way.
I don't remember much about specific characters, except that Kenny's perspective is funny, Kenny's Dad's reactions are hilarious, and Byron is just fun to laugh at because of his serious, brooding, I'm-a-tough-man-act. Mostly, I remember the family relations being pitch-perfect. You could just feel the love between the pages.
I also remember very little about the plot, since I reread this about 4 years ago. All I know is that the handling of the church bombing issue made me want to cry and most of the scenes were either hilarious, in that "Kids Say the Darndest Things" way, or they made you feel all warm and gooey inside. I seriously connect a lot of this book with memories from my childhood, so it's hard not to love it. That being said, as a fifth grade reader, this really made me want to read everything I could get my hands on.
This was just an excellent book. I'm planning on re-reading it, just because it's so special. It's definitely for yougner kids, though. I'd say 3rd-6th grade. If you have a reluctant reader, this is a great one to give them. Plus, it is a GREAT book to read aloud.
Don't just take my word for it. I'll list a few of it's many awards.
A 1996 Newbery Honor Book
A 1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
An ALA Top Ten Best Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children's Book
An IRA Young Adults' Choice
A New York Times Book Review Best Book
A Publisher's Weekly Best Book
And that's just to name a few.
Character Development: 7/10