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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What are Byron Watson's characteristics in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963?

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Thirteen-year-old Byron ("By") is a "juvenile delinquent" in the terminology of the times and the older brother to the main character, Kenny. By cultivates a cool, tough-guy demeanor, and he is in active rebellion against his parents. They are so fed up with and worried about him that they finally make plans for him to spend the summer with his grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama.

Kenny is bullied by By, but he also admires his daring and sense of humor, so he has mixed emotions about his enigmatic older brother. By's "fantastic" escapades attract Kenny but also frighten him.

By is a well-rounded character. For example, he wants to change and meet his parents's expectations, especially as they get increasingly upset with him, but he also finds himself allured by trouble. His mother threatens to burn him if he keeps setting fires, but By, though well-meaning at heart, has difficulty following her demands.

Beneath his tough-guy facade, By is sensitive and confused, hiding his insecurities under bravado. He does care about other people and living creatures, but he's going through an adolescent phase where he has to sort his identity out. It isn't easy to be thirteen, especially as a black young man in a racist country in 1963.

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In The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Byron Watson is the big brother to narrator Kenny. By (Byron’s nickname) is a tough guy, and he gets in trouble quite a bit. Along with his best friend Buphead, Byron bullies the younger kids at school. Byron also causes trouble in his family, continually picking on his little brother Kenny and disobeying his parents. He is actually the cause of the family’s trip to Birmingham. By has gotten in trouble one time too many, and his parents are sending him to Alabama to spend the summer with Grandma Sands, his momma’s mother. Although Byron is characterized as a troublemaker and wants to be known as a tough guy, the reader sees glimpses of his softer side. For instance, after accidentally killing a bird, Byron weeps uncontrollably and even has a funeral for the animal. Both Byron and Kenny are dynamic characters and undergo a transformation as the book progresses. As the family experiences traumatic situations and circumstances, Byron becomes a source of comfort and strength for his little brother, Kenny. Byron even ends up saving Kenny’s life.

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