Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

genre: middle grade

Kenny's world of 1963 Flint, Michigan, encircles his family, his neighborhood and his school.  That's about it.  His older brother is a criminal-in-the-making, his little sister is a pest, his dad's a hard-working big talker and his momma is in charge.  Being the younger brother makes his life complicated in more ways that one and it's hard to learn how to be a good friend when you're ten.  His hilarious life experiences in Michigan take an interesting turn when Momma announces that they are taking a road trip - to Alabama.  And in Birmingham, Kenny's eyes are opened to the kind of hatred that can change everything if you let it.

Okay, please know, this is a FANTASTIC book.  There are so many things to love about it.  The family, it's functioning and comic dysfunction.   I LOVE the father.  I love that he is present and involved and has the most wonderful sense of humor.  I love that Momma, she felt so familiar - I saw a lot of my own marriage relationship and parenting in her (except for one HILARIOUS scene with the older brother where she has had ENOUGH of his antics). Kenny is so sympathetic.  He is sometimes so mature, like a ten year old, and other times still so in awe and gullible, just like a ten year old.  I loved the arc of the older brother's character, that got particularly tender for me.  And I thought the action in Birmingham was so believable - if a little disjointed for a minute after the horrible happens, but it was understandable. I loved how that event was put into context, how all of a sudden the "victims" of racism just feel so REAL to us as readers, the author did an amazing job helping me, as a middle-aged white lady, to feel what it might have been like to be a 10 year old African American boy in the 60s.  Well done.

My son Xavier is a great judge of books.  This is the second book in a row that he told me I MUST read that was a complete winner.  When he told me that his teacher had read it outloud to his class and he was loving it, I remembered that I actually own it!  My great friend Holly had given it to me and it had somehow gotten buried (thanks Holly!!)  I loved that he was so excited about me reading it, he'd ask me about what part I was reading and he got excited to explain things to me.  I really loved that we got to have this as a common experience - he's begging me to watch the movie with him next :)

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I always read the books Vance recommended when he was young and it was always a wonderful experience to share a book with him. This one sounds fantastic!

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