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 three major conflicts in "The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963"?

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One of the conflicts in the story is Kenny's difficulty with social adjustment. He has a lazy eye which makes him look different, and is very intelligent, a characteristic which does not endear him to his peers when he is held up as an example of academic excellence to other students. Kenny's only friend has turned out to be a thief, and he has trouble finding acceptance both with his classmates and his siblings.

Another very serious conflict in the story is Kenny's brother Byron's rebellious behavior. Byron is thirteen, and intent on being "an official juvenile delinquent". He is insolent and disobedient, hanging around with the wrong crowd, skipping school, starting fires, and straightening his hair in direct defiance of his parents' wishes. Byron's behavior is beyond his family's capablity to handle, and his parents, at wits end, decide to remove him from his familiar environment and leave him with his formidable Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama for awhile to see if she can get him to modify his behavior.

A final conflict is Kenny's inability to come to terms with two terrifying experiences he has in Birmingham. Kenny almost drowns in the "Wool Pooh", and witnesses the aftermath of the tragic bombing of a black Christian Church. It takes the love and understanding of his entire family, even Byron, to help him work through his trauma and live life in health and normalcy once again.

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