Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Coming of Age

By Christopher Paul Curtis

Coming of Age

Even though I was in fourth grade I fell for a lot of the stuff Byron came up with. (4.36)

Why do you think Kenny still believes a lot of what Byron tells him?

He was smiling and he even put his arm around my shoulder as we walked. I couldn't help myself, it felt so grown-up to have By walking with me like that, I started laughing right along with him. (6.40)

Kenny's sense of feeling grown up seems tied to how his big brother treats him. When Byron treats Kenny like an equal, Kenny feels mature. When Byron treats Kenny like a little kid, Kenny feels like a kid. Funny how that works.

"This is it, By. You're old enough now and you've been told enough, this time something's going to be done." (7.148)

Byron is getting older, but he doesn't seem to be getting more mature. Momma and Dad have to do something drastic to get Byron to finally grow up. Why do you think they've given him so many chances? And why the heck does Byron still act so immature? Come on, By.

I loved when Dad talked to me like I was grown-up. I didn't really understand half the junk he was saying, but it sure did feel good to be talked to like that! (8.26)

Why do you think this is so important to Kenny? Do you have adults in your life who treat you like a grown-up? How does that make you feel?

"I don't think I'll ever know what to do when I'm a grown-up. It seems like you and Momma know a lot of things that I can never learn. It seems real scary. I don't think I could ever be as good a parent as you guys." (8.32)

Even though Kenny likes feeling grown-up, he's perceptive enough to know that it's not all rainbows and butterflies. Kenny's right that it can be scary to grow up, and this conversation foreshadows all the scary growing up that Kenny is about to face in Birmingham.

"Could it be that you want me to soap your face up and hold you up here while you shave it off? It's been a long time since we've done that."

"Aww, man, I'm way too old for that. Besides, I'm starting to get a real mustache. Look." I stuck my upper lip out for Dad to see. (8.49-50)

One of the outward signs of growing up for a boy is having facial hair, and Kenny seems eager for it. Remember though, growing up is something that happens inside, not outside. But hey, facial hair doesn't hurt.

The only kid that acted like he was having any fun was Byron. He walked the whole way with Mr. Robert and Dad and laughed and joked with them about every stupid story they told. (12.53)

Byron isn't usually this pleasant to be around, but something seems to be changing about him ever since they arrived in Birmingham. Being able to talk with adults without mouthing off seems like a sign that Byron is starting to mature a little bit, don't you think?

Momma started trying to force me to do more things with Rufus but it seemed like he'd changed while we were gone and wasn't as much fun to be with. Him and Cody got real happy when I gave them my pillowcaseful of dinosaurs. I was getting too mature to play with toys anymore. (15.23)

Why do you think Kenny feels like Rufus has changed while they were gone? Is it possible that Kenny's actually the one who changed?

I had to think of a way to get at least half of my dinosaurs back from Rufus. (15.109)

Believe it or not, this is a grown-up decision for Kenny, too. He's not losing his maturity by going back to his toys; instead, he's making the very mature decision to keep enjoying the things he likes, even though he knows now that terrible things can happen.