Saturday, September 29, 2012
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 Review
Book talk: Have you ever had an older sibling who pulled a mean trick on you? Then you'll understand just how sweet the sight of Byron standing with his lips frozen to the rearview mirror is for Kenny. Just last week By had clobbered him with a fistful of snow right in the mouth. But now, as they were supposed to be scraping ice off the windshield, Byron had decided to check himself out in the mirror and kiss his own reflection. Now, Kenny is free to look on as his parents try to free Byron. Now Kenny has the upper-hand, and he uses it to give By a new nickname: the Lipless Wonder. As the weather improved, Bryon's behavior didn't. There was the flaming parachute incident, the Swedish creme bird tragedy, and a haircut that went a step too far. Now Byron's got himself exiled to Birmingham for the summer to be straightened out by grandma. It will be a trip that changes the family forever.
Rocks my socks: I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard and so long when reading a book. I saw Christopher Paul Curtis speak this summer and he is just as hilarious in person. There were so many great surreal moments from Kenny playing war with his friends using American and Nazi dinosaurs to Byron's definition of peon: "them folk what was so poor that the rich folks would just as soon pee on them as anything else." Not to mention Winnie's evil twin: the wool pooh. The novel isn't all amusing anecdotes, though. It has a real heart and purpose to it. Even for readers who know what happened in Birmingham in 1963, when the attack occurs it's sudden and surprising, and because we've spent the rest of the novel seeing how good-humored our narrator normally is, his reaction is all the more heart-wrenching.
Rocks in my socks: none
Every book its reader: The novel is historical fiction and it does an excellent job taking a reader back to a specific time and place. But it is also about a boy growing up and the often hilarious hijinks that ensue. I'd give this to someone looking for a laugh or a book about childhood. The novel does grapple with some difficult themes, but in an accessible way. I'd say 4th grade and up.
The Fuse #8 top 100 children's novels entry on the book is a great resource
Scholastic has a reading guide for the novel with an interview with the author, activity ideas, and more
There are several fan trailers on YouTube for the video including this one of the more traditional variety and this one reenacting scenes from the novel using rats
Reading Rockets has several video clips of an interview with Christopher Paul Curtis
Random House has a site for Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic has a page for the book with a link to the author's note
Last but certainly not least Christopher Paul Curtis has his own website with links to various interviews, news, and more
Source: Free copy from a Scholastic reading summit
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963: Buy it or check it out today!