Curtis, Christopher Paul. THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM - 1963. New York: Scholastic. ISBN: 0-590-69014-0.
If you want to read a book that is a lot of fun and has educational value as well, then The Watsons go to Birmingham- 1963 is the book for you. This historical fiction takes the reader back into life as it was in the 1960's as seen through the eyes of young protagonist, African-American ten-year-old Kenny, and his family. This book would be an excellent choice for a social studies teacher who wants to us a trade book to supplement the textbook when teaching on the Civil Rights Movement. Seeing the problem through the perspective of a young person who experienced part of the problem engages the reader more then a textbook ever could. The setting of the book is very authentic and imparts knowledge to the reader about the period. This book is very people-focused. It does not just spit out facts, but includes exciting events and descriptions.
Much of this award-winning book is about the day-to-day life of a family who live in Flint, Michigan. When they decide to take a trip down south to visit the childrens' grandmother, a few life changing events take place that turn the family around. Kenny is saved from drowning by his juvenile delinquent brother. The book intimates that the brother, "Daddy Cool", has changed for the better through this event. When white people who hate black people bomb a local church, Kenny flips out for a while before his brother talks him through his problems and helps him to recover.
Although it is historical fiction, this book is all about family and many of the problems and joys that they experienced in the 1960's are no different then the problems that children/parents experience today. Troubles with siblings, the joy of music, the fun of having a good friend, the trials of parenting, are all the same today as they were for the period of time that this book is set in.
This Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, ALA Best Book for Young Adults award-winning book is a great historical fiction book. Its many superb qualities, such as descriptive setting, young protagonist, plot not smothered by facts, not to mention the authentic speech patterns, make this book a fun and educational read.