Reader, meet Kenny Watson, middle child of the Weird Watson family. He's smart, a little shy, and he's got one heck of story to tell about the rest of the Watsons: Momma, Dad, Joetta (little sis), and especially his juvenile delinquent brother, Byron. The Weird Watsons are, well, weird, so this story has no shortage of hilarious moments involving toilets, dinosaurs, flaming parachutes, and really bad hairdos, to name a few. Byron, delinquent that he is, manages to get in deeper and deeper trouble until finally Momma and Dad decide it's time for a family trip to Birmingham so the famously strict Grandma Sands (Momma's momma) can take a turn trying to straighten Byron out. That's when things get really interesting and, well, a little scary if we're being honest. Think you can handle it?
Published in 1995, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 was Christopher Paul Curtis's first book. It won the Newbery Honor, which is pretty much the best prize you can get for children's literature in the United States. Read: this book is amazing.
Timing is everything, and in case you missed the title, the story takes place in 1963. The Watsons are an African-American family living in Flint, Michigan (way up North), but they decide to take a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama (deep South). Now, 1963 is smack in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, so for an African American family, this whole North vs. South thing is a pretty important detail. The Watsons are on a collision course with one of the most important events in Civil Rights history, and trust us, you don't want to miss it.
We might have moved beyond Jim Crow, but we (the big humankind we) aren't beyond hating each other and hurting each other in some really small and really big ways. People still do terrible things that we don't understand. The world can still be a pretty difficult place to live. But you know what? It's all we've got, so we have to keep living and keep fighting to make it better.
That's really what Watson's is all about. You'll see the characters face everyday hurts like bullying and once-in-a-long-while hurts like death and tragedy. But it's not all doom and gloom; the Watsons constantly remind us that friends and family are what matter and that these relationships (plus plenty of laughter) can pull us through whatever the world throws our way.
And Shmoop has news: the world can toss some pretty messy obstacles in your path while growing up. So grab a copy of the book and check out how Byron and Kenny Watson navigate this growing up thing. We promise a little bit of wisdom and a lot of laughs along the way. And hey, that's pretty much what we can promise you about life, too.