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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Why was The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 banned?

Quick answer:

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 was banned by a school district in Utah in 2001, stating it as "not right" for its students, and by a school district in Virginia in 2002 for its language.

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Those who follow banned books seem genuinely bemused as to why The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 was banned from middle schools by two school districts. The banners were the Nebo School District in Utah in 20o1 and the Stafford County, Virginia district in 2002. The former deemed the book would not "be right" for its students. In writing on the topic, journalist Marilou Sorenson notes that some librarians speculate that it may be because, in one scene, Kenny's father is described as brushing his hand across Kenny's mother's chest, a sexually suggestive move (though as Sorenson comments, a mild one).

In the instance of Stafford County, bad language was named as a rationale for the book ban. As some observers have noted, the words "ass" and "hell" appear in the novel, but most commentators seem to believe the expletives are mild and not inappropriate to a coming-of-age narrative. Others have opined that the description of the church bombing, while also mild, might have been considered disturbing by some.

Taking into account the mildness of the potentially offensive content, censorship trackers have mentioned that it is possible parents in some school districts were disturbed by the depiction of an episode in US history in which white people behaved badly.

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