The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Exposition (Initial Situation)
The Weird Watsons
Kenny and his family live in Flint, Michigan. They're known as the Weird Watsons because they always manage to get themselves into crazy situations like Byron freezing his lips to the car. Pretty weird, indeed. We get the vital stats on each character: Dad is a jokester, Momma is from the South, Joey is super sensitive, Kenny is a nice kid, and Byron is a juvenile delinquent.
Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)
The Last Straw
Watsons isn't exactly one continuous chain of events; instead, each chapter tells a different story of the Weird Watsons. Most of the chapters have something to do with Byron getting into trouble and how this affects his relationship with Kenny. Byron gets himself in deeper and deeper trouble until finally he uses chemicals to straighten his hair, which is the last straw with Momma and Dad. This is when they decide to take him to Birmingham for the summer to straighten him out.
Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)
The bombing itself is pretty climactic, but in terms of the story, the climax comes when Kenny goes into the church after the bombing. He finds a shoe that looks just like hers and thinks that the Wool Pooh has her, so he runs back home scared. This is the moment when Kenny changes—from then on, he won't be the same kid. He's got some growing up to do.
Back in Flint, everyone is pretty shaken up by what happened at the church, but Kenny is having the toughest time. He spends a lot of time hiding out behind the couch and he won't really talk to anyone until Byron figures out where he's been hiding. Byron starts checking up on Kenny and tries to get him to come out occasionally. One day, Byron makes Kenny come to the bathroom to see his first chin hair, and when Kenny sees himself in the mirror, he finally breaks down and cries about everything that happened. He tells Byron that he's ashamed of himself for not trying to fight the Wool Pooh to get Joey back.
It'll Be Okay
Kenny has kind of a revelation right there in the bathroom with Byron. He realizes that there isn't magic fairies-type magic, but there is magic in the love a family has for each other—and maybe some of that magic is what saved Joey after all. Once Kenny starts thinking about all that love, he starts to believe that he'll be okay, even though sometimes terrible things happen. Quite an outlook.