illustrated close-up of Kenny Watson with fire in the background behind him

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

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How does Byron change when the Watsons arrive in Alabama? Why do you think he changes so suddenly? Provide text evidence to support your answer.

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After the Watsons arrive in Alabama, Byron seemingly becomes a nicer boy overnight. Accordingly, the family makes the trip to Alabama in order to visit Grandma Sands and also to drop Byron off for a little stay with her. The hope is that Grandma Sands will straighten Byron out.

In Chapter 11, Kenny thinks that Grandma Sands will be no match for his troublemaker big brother. After all, she looks way too fragile to counteract the sort of misbehavior Byron is famous for. However, Kenny finds himself surprised when Grandma Sands puts Byron in his place when he answers her disrespectfully. Although Grandma Sands is small and withered, she's quite the disciplinarian; Kenny gets the idea that she's not the sort of old lady who will tolerate bad behavior. In fact, Grandma Sands may just be one of the main reasons Byron changes so suddenly.

"You good at following directions, Byron?” “Huh?” By’s face twisted up."What?” Grandma Sands’s voice popped like one of those big brown grocery bags being snapped open. By looked surprised and said, “I meant, ‘Huh, ma’am.’ “You good at following directions? Jobe’s is a good little walk.” I said,“He can follow directions real good, Grandma Sands, he’s not as dumb as he looks.” I shut up real quick and wished I hadn’t said anything when Grandma Sands looked at me and said,“ ’Lona, maybe there’s two who should be spending the summer down here with their granny.”

I started to think that making Byron spend all of his summer in this heat was more punishment than even a juvenile delinquent like him deserved. But he seemed like he was having a great time.

Kenny also thinks that the Alabama heat is too much for Byron and has temporarily incapacitated Byron's ability to behave badly. However, he also thinks that Byron seems to be enjoying himself; presumably, being away from Buphead's bad influence has also made a difference in Byron's attitudes.

Byron's change is further evident when he refuses to go to Collier's Landing with Kenny and Joey. Meanwhile, Kenny can't believe that the rebellious brother he used to know would listen to any adult, but here he is warning Kenny not to go to Collier's Landing just because Grandma Sands says so. Later, by all indications, Byron even saves Kenny from being drowned. Living in a wholesome environment has certainly helped Byron to act more like the big brother he should be.

When Kenny becomes shell-shocked after the bombing of Joey's church, it is Byron who comforts Kenny and offers him supportive words of wisdom to guide him out of his emotional paralysis. Byron's emerging maturity appears to be fueled by his experience staying with Grandma Sands in Alabama.



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