Christopher Paul Curtis's Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963, how does Kenny almost die?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter 13 of Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963, Kenny feels tempted to swim at Collier's Landing rather than the public swimming area even though he has been warned it's dangerous. One reason why he feels tempted is because he sees it as an opportunity to have his own adventure just like his older brother Byron goes on adventures. However, Kenny is surprised when neither Joey nor Byron agree to go to the landing with him. Byron even warns that there are dangerous whirlpools.

Regardless, determined to model his brother in rebelliousness and an adventurous spirit, Kenny heads to Collier's Landing by himself while the other two continue on to the public swimming area. Byron even shows signs he's glad to be rid of his annoying kid brother. Once at the landing, Kenny starts chasing after fish. He then becomes fascinated by a turtle swimming in deep water and decides to pursue the turtle, which is when he gets sucked into a whirlpool. His head gets pulled under water four times, nearly drowning him, as is partly detailed in the following passage:

That's when I got really scared. I'd seen enough cartoons to know that when your head goes down three times it doesn't ever come up again! I knew if I went down one more time I was as dead as a donut! (p. 175)

However, Byron surprises Kenny by coming to his rescue, and though it's a struggle to get Kenny out of the whirlpool, Byron is able to save him from drowning. The two brothers then have a very emotional moment together that shows their true closeness despite their differences.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In about the beginning of the chronicle of their arrival in Birmingham, Alabama, Chapter 12, Kenny and his family arrive at his grandmother's house where there is also her friend, Mr. Roberts. The next day, Mr. Roberts takes the boys fishing; he cautions them about Collier's Landing and tells them not to swim there because a boy drowned them a few years ago. Byron retells the story about a whirlpool, but he mispronounces it as "Wool Pooh." The daring and disobedient Kenny decides he is too hot and will go swimming at Collier's Landing despite the warning, and have another "Fantastic Adventure." He wonders why Byron does go along:

Who could understand Byron? Here was a chance for another Fantastic Adventure and he was going in the wrong direction. Something was wrong with him. If he was in Flint and you told him not to do something he'd go right out and do it, but now he was acting real dull and square.

When he sees the warning sign, Kenny assumes that Mr. Collier just placed it there to keep out people. At first he sees small fish where he steps in, then spots a turtle. As Kenny wades near it, his feet slip on the rocks, and he falls into the churning whirlpool. Frightened, Kenny starts to go under and imagines Joey in angel-form. But, just as is pulled farther underneath the water, his brother Byron grabs him and pulls him from the churning water. Once on the shore, Kenny spits up much water; he realizes how close he has come to death. He understands now why Byron did not join him. He is getting more mature.

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thegreywarden | (Level 1) eNoter

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In The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, Kenny Watson almost dies by drowning. When he is swimming at Collier's Landing, he gets caught in a whirlpool current and just about drowns, when Byron rescues him and pulls him out of the water. Kenny believed Byron's earlier story about the evil Wool Pooh, and thought that it was he who was pulling Kenny down through the water with his "hard and square-looking fingers" (13.50). Kenny thought that Byron fought off Wool Pooh and that's the reason why he was saved. 

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