The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Humorous, Observant, Reflective
The Weird Watsons are all about the funny. They love to make each other laugh, and that means they make us laugh, too. The Watsons' attitude about life reminds us that there's always something to laugh about—even in the midst of anger, angst, and grief. Just take a look at how Byron ends his all-important heart-to-heart with Kenny:
"I sure wish someone would come clean and tell me who my real folks was, there just ain't no way in hell two people as ugly as your momma and daddy could ever have a child as fine as me!" (15.96)
Byron goes from Mr. Sensitive straight back to his sarcastic, joking self, because he knows the best way to get Kenny back to himself is to help him (and us readers) laugh again; it's the Watsons' cure-all.
But of course, the story takes some pretty serious turns; so when the tone isn't humorous, it's observant and reflective. As our narrator, Kenny pays attention to detail. He notices and shares every little detail about the people around him, giving us a fully rendered picture of everything that happens. For example, Kenny tells us:
The crowd of kids was getting bigger and bigger and was loving this. Not because they wanted to see Larry Dunn get jacked up, but because they wanted to see anybody get it, they'd have been just as happy if it was me or Rufus or someone else. (4.123)
Now that's a pretty fabulous insight into the collective mind of a schoolyard mob. Thanks to Kenny's narration, we benefit from perceptive nuggets like this all the way through the book, helping us understand why all this stuff matters.