The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Questions and Answers
by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 book cover
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Why did Kenny and Joetta tell a story about how their mother made them wear a lot of clothes?

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In The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, the Watsons live in Flint, Michigan, where it gets cold in the wintertime. Kenny, Joetta, and Byron Watson’s mother is from Alabama, where it is much warmer than in Michigan. She is worried about her children getting too cold. In winter, she makes the children dress in many layers of clothes to keep warm. They wear so many layers that they are hot and sweaty by the time they get to school. They are also each given two pairs of real leather gloves.

This story is important for a few reasons. First, Kenny gives his first pair of gloves to his friend Rufus who has no gloves of his own. Kenny tells his mother he lost them, and she gives him the second pair. Kenny risks getting in trouble to help his friend. The school bully then takes Kenny’s second, and last, pair of gloves. His big brother Byron seeks out the bully and beats him up to get the gloves back. Byron is a troublemaker and picks on Kenny quite a bit. This incident shows how much Byron really cares for Kenny, even if Byron is too tough to admit it. Later in the story, Byron continues to help Kenny, even saving him from death. The story about the winter clothes is also an illustration about the closeness of the Watson family, which is an important element of the entire book.

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