Kenny Watson is just an ordinary little boy dealing with things that are normal for kids his age; school bullies, a bossy older brother, a dramatic little sister, an overprotective mother, and a simple father. Innocent, down-to-earth Kenny is changed forever after a trip to Birmingham, Alabama leaves him feeling scared, depressed, and vulnerable. Told through the eyes of a 10 year old, this historical fiction book explores issues of violence and segregation during the Civil Rights Movement on a level that young readers can connect with and understand.
Curtis, C. P. (1995). The Watson go to Birmingham, 1963. NY: Delacorte.
Historical Fiction: Review
A historical fiction novel told in first person through the perspective of a 10-year-old boy, Kenneth, The Watsons Go to Birmingham depicts an African American family living in an era where racism and the issue of segregation was at its peak. Kenny Watson, lives in Flint, Michigan with his two siblings, Joetta and Byron, his father, and very southern bred mother. After several bouts of delinquent behavior is displayed by Byron, the Watsons travel to Birmingham in 1963 to drop him off with his grandmother to straighten him out. The audience can feel the progression of the story and uneasiness the family begins to experience as they near their destination. The novel is articulated honestly from a little boy dealing with typical growing pains that most readers will be able to identify with, including school bullies, yearning for acceptance, and sibling rivalry; however, most of the novel is centered around the Watsons life changing experience while in Alabama. The family finds themselves in the heat of a central conflict during the Civil Rights Movement in the south. The focus is on Kenny’s emotional journey after experiencing first hand the hatred and violence African Americans faced. The memories continue to plague the Watsons even after they’ve returned to Flint; it is here where Kenny becomes emotionally withdrawn from his family and continues to drift further as he struggles with what he witnessed. The author links these emotions to historical aspects of the time period, connecting pivotal, factual events to the emotional standpoint of a young character, that gives readers a better understanding of how Kenny felt. The issue of segregation is subtly tackled and explored at a level that children can understand.