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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Which grade levels are appropriate for teaching The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis?

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The Lexile Range for the book is @920L, or 5th- to 6th-grade level book. Scholastic ranks the book a U, which correlates to a 6th- to 7th-grade level book. The DRA Level is 50, correlating to the approximate reading level of 6th grade.

As a teacher, I taught the book to my advanced 4th-grade students and to my regular-education 5th-grade students. In teaching the book, I might suggest you teach the Social Studies standards for your state at the same time. The Social Studies standards provide the background material for students to appreciate the message of the story.

If you are uncomfortable with the comprehension level of this book being appropriate to the reading comprehension ability of your classroom, Christopher Paul Curtis has written a number of books with a similar theme and message. You may want to check out Bud, Not Buddy. It is an excellent, fun read with a comprehension level equivalency of 3rd- to 5th-grade.

I included a link to, which has a lesson plan and a summary of the plot of The Watsons Go to Birmingham and a link to Reading is Fundamental for Bud, Not Buddy.

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As with any other piece of literature, the readability (reading level) of the text along with the content should be considered before assigning a book to a child.  In The Watson's Go to Birmingham-- 1963, the important factor for consideration is the setting of the book.  It takes place during the heart of the civil rights movement, one of the most tumultuous times of United States history.  It tells the story of a family who visit Birmingham, Alabama from their home in Flint, Michigan.  The voice of the narrator, ten year old Kenny, is appealing to young readers.  I've actually had students as young as third grade read the book and enjoy it for the plot.  In order to understand the historical implications of the book, however, a child would probably have to be a bit older.  Ideally, students in grades 5-8 would read and fully appreciate the depth of a book such as this one.

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