Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Family

By Christopher Paul Curtis

Family

I could have done a lot of stuff to him. If it had been me with my lips stuck on something like this he'd have tortured me for a couple of days before he got help. Not me, though, I nearly broke my neck trying to get into the house to rescue Byron. (1.95)

Why does Kenny treat Byron differently than Byron would treat him? What does that say about their relationship?

It's no wonder the neighbors called us the Weird Watsons behind our backs. There we were, all five of us standing around a car with the temperature about a million degrees below zero and each and every one of us crying! (1.130)

Do you think Kenny is ashamed or proud of being known as the Weird Watsons? How does this label affect the identity of the family as a whole? What nickname would you give your family?

I couldn't believe it. I think Byron was proud of me! When everybody saw Byron wasn't going to do anything to me for being smart they all decided that they better not do anything either. (2.32)

This is one of the few clues we get early on that Byron cares about his little brother. Why do you think he works so hard to hide it the rest of the time? Come on, By, we know you love him.

I guess I should have told Momma that I really appreciated her helping me get my friend back but I didn't have to. I was pretty sure she already knew. (3.128)

In families, it sometimes seems like everybody just knows how everybody else feels. Do you think Byron assumes that Kenny knows he loves him, even though he doesn't act like it? Do you think Kenny knows that Byron loves him, or does he need Byron to tell him?

I wasn't used to being this friendly with Byron so I guess I was kind of nervous and didn't really know what we should talk about. (6.61)

Oh man. When Byron is finally nice, Kenny's all nervous. Not the greatest feeling in the world. Is Byron and Kenny's relationship is typical of two brothers, or do you think Byron is unusually nasty to him?

I got a huge smile! This was a perfect day! But like always, By ruined it. (6.63)

Byron seems to ruin everything—or at least, that's how Kenny sees it. But are all of the Watsons' problems really Byron's fault? Is anyone else to blame?

"Does it make you look any better? [...] Is this straight mess more attractive than your own hair? Did those chemicals give you better-looking hair than me and your daddy and God gave you?" (7.27)

Man, Momma is mad about that conk. But we're still wondering why she's so mad. This quote might give us a clue. The family traits that she and Dad have passed on to the kids seem very important to her. Perhaps she's hurt by the fact that Byron dislikes his own Watson family hair enough to ruin it with chemicals. Perhaps this conk of Byron's feels sort of like a rejection to the family—or to their racial background. Can you sympathize with how Momma feels, or do you think she's overreacting?

I knew Dad was kind of disappointed by the way Momma had acted. She really hurt his feelings by walking off like that. Some of the time I think she forgot how sensitive Dad was. Even though he acted cheery with us I knew it wasn't the same for him now. I knew if Momma had stayed and hadn't gone off mumbling about money we would have been having a lot more fun. (8.102)

Dad definitely hearts his family, that's for sure. He's not happy unless the whole family is having fun with him. This is also one of the few times in the novel that we see Momma and Dad have a disagreement. What other examples can you find where Momma and Dad argue or disagree? What do these moments reveal about their relationship?

Dad came up on the porch and got a ton of hugs and tears too, then Grandma Sands pulled everybody together. Her little arms could only get around one person at a time but as the Weird Watsons stood there with some of us laughing, some of us crying and some of us looking cool it felt like we all were wrapped up in a big ball. (11.89)

Can you imagine not seeing your grandma for 10 years? For a family that thinks family is so important, that's a long time to go without visiting. Why don't they visit more often? Do you think this affects Momma and Dad's relationship at all? How do you think the Watsons would be different if they visited this side of the family all the time?

Maybe [the magic powers] were in the way your father smiled at you even after you'd messed something up real bad. Maybe they were in the way you understood that your mother wasn't trying to make you the laughing "sock" of the whole school when she'd call you over in front of a bunch of your friends and used spit on her finger to wipe the sleep out of your eyes. Maybe it was magic powers that let you know she was just being Momma. [...] Maybe there were genies in the way your sister would throw a stupid tea party for you and you had fun even though it was kind of embarrassing to sit at a little table and sip water out of plastic teacups. [...] And I'm sure there was an angel in Birmingham when Grandma Sands wrapped her little arms around all of the Weird Watsons and said, "My fambly, my beautiful, beautiful fambly." (15.103)

The Big Aha Moment of the story. Kenny is finally growing out of believing in magic, but he's not ready to give it up completely. He still feels sure there's magic out there somewhere—but now he seems to understand that what he's been calling magic may just be the power of love. In this case, the love of a family.