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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In The Watsons Go to Birmingham, what did Kenny think would happen when the teacher sat Rufus next to him in class? Was he right or wrong? 

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When Rufus and his brother Cody first board the school bus, Kenny thinks of Rufus as "his personal saver." This is a play on the word, "savior," which is really the phrase that Kenny is trying to use. Kenny thinks that Rufus will "save" him from teasing because there is...

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When Rufus and his brother Cody first board the school bus, Kenny thinks of Rufus as "his personal saver." This is a play on the word, "savior," which is really the phrase that Kenny is trying to use. Kenny thinks that Rufus will "save" him from teasing because there is even more to make fun of about Rufus than Kenny. Rufus has poorly-fitting clothes that are ripped, his family is obviously impoverished, he has a southern accent, he is polite to the bus driver, and is overly friendly to the students on the bus. When Rufus greets his new schoolmates with, "Hi, y'all," Kenny feels thrilled that the new boy is sure to be more of a target for teasing than Kenny ever was.

However, when they get to class and the teacher sits Rufus next to Kenny, our narrator is horrified because he thinks that now the kids will think he is friends with Rufus and make fun of both of them together (two nerds equal double the teasing). Kenny tries to stay away from Rufus and is fairly rude in his efforts to ignore Rufus's friendly overtures, but Rufus refuses to acknowledge that Kenny doesn't want to be friends with him and eventually, Kenny is won over by Rufus's kindness and the fact that Rufus never steals his dinosaurs, unlike L.J. Jones.

Ultimately, kids do still make fun of Rufus, but they leave Kenny alone since he is protected by his relationship with Byron. Kids don't make fun of Kenny because they won't touch the brother of the school's God, plus Rufus is a better target. So, Kenny was wrong.

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