The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Analysis: Writing Style
Kenny just loves to exaggerate, and that makes for some pretty interesting descriptions along the way. But because this kid has such a vivid imagination, we as readers have to stop and decode Kenny's exaggerations to figure out what's really going on. Here are a few of our favorite descriptions a la Kenny:
• "It was so cold that if you spit, the slob would be an ice cube before it hit the ground. It was about a zillion degrees below zero" (1.2).
• "I didn't see it, but I bet Byron's lips stretched a mile before they finally let go of that mirror" (1.144).
• "About a million fingers pointed at the new kids and a million laughs almost knocked them over" (2.52).
• "Momma and Dad had threatened to send Byron to Grandma Sands about a million times, but we never thought it would happen. [...] The first reason was that Alabama was about two million miles from Flint" (8.177).
And there are a zillion more examples where those came from.
You might have noticed that Watsons isn't told as one continuous chain of events. Instead, the author gives us a bunch of individual episodes from the Watsons' lives. Each of these events add up to the necessary trip to Birmingham in the summer of 1963 to dump—um, drop off—Byron.
In one chapter we learn about the dinosaur war, in another the stolen gloves, in another the bird assassination, in another the conk—the list goes on. Each event doesn't really lead to or cause the next, and sometimes we get the feeling that several weeks or even months might have passed between chapters.
The nice thing about this style is that we just get to read the interesting parts of the story. The author skips over all the weeks when the Watsons are just a regular old family going to school and eating dinner and doing homework. Instead, he goes straight to the Weird Watson moments, like when someone has his lips stuck to a car or is setting parachutes on fire in the bathroom. You know, the juicy stuff.