The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Summary
by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 book cover
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The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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In the opening pages of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, all five members of the Watson family are sitting wrapped in blankets against the cold of the apartment. Mrs. Watson is convinced they are going to freeze to death. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Kenny, the reader learns about the crazy antics of his family. Kenny believes that everyone in his neighborhood and school must think his family is strange—"The Weird Watsons".

Through Kenny's eyes we view his tenuous love/hate relationship with his older brother Byron, often called By. Kenny's feelings about By swing between fear of By's bullying tactics, awe of By's "fantastic adventures," and pleasure in By's sometimes unexpected kindness.

Kenny frequently tries to understand how a bully can have such a great sense of humor. By's craziness includes a narcissistic attitude which freezes his lips to the side-view mirror of the family's car, known to the children as the "Brown Bomber," as he kisses himself one freezing winter morning when the family decides to go to an aunt's house to escape the cold in their apartment. When he has his hair straightened against the express wishes of his parents, Dad cuts it all off and shaves By's head. These and other hilarious incidents draw the reader into the intimacy of this African-American family living in Flint, Michigan, in 1963. Kenny stands on the sidelines sometimes admiring By's rebellion and slow slide towards trouble and other times fearing the consequences of By's not-too-bright choices.

Dad and Momma, as the Watson children call their parents, are determined to raise respectful, well-behaved children who make good choices and possess high moral standards. Realizing they have been unable to instill fully their standards in their oldest child, Dad and Momma decide to take By to Birmingham and leave him with his Grandma Sands, a strong woman who will bring him to his senses. They know there is some violence in the South with the...

(The entire section is 508 words.)