Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go to Birmingham, honor winner for both the Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards, has been made into a movie, which airs on Friday, September 20.
The titular trip is no ordinary road trip, but it is a journey. The Watson family, a.k.a. the Weird Watsons of Michigan, is narrated by nine-year-old Kenny, who has a snappy, clever voice and a knack for description. (“It was so cold that if you were stupid enough to go outside your eyes would automatically blink a thousand times all by themselves, probably so the juice inside of them wouldn’t freeze up.”) He takes after his father, who tells hilarious stories with the occasional tinge of bleak humor, which is only fitting for the time: 1963.
But it’s his brother Byron–a troublemaker who’s so vain he froze his lips to a mirror–who prompts the Watsons to pack up the car, a.k.a. the Brown Bomber, and head for their grandmother’s place in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s the only one who can shake him up and make him act right. You’re so caught up in their family dynamics and antics in Birmingham that, when the 16th St. Baptist Church explodes, the shock makes you totally still. The imagery is striking and sobering but not gratuitous, and–similar to the Logans in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry–the Watsons’ love for one another makes the best sense of a horrible situation as is possible, though there is no sense to be had in such an act. An epilogue gives details on the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of its attendant acts and laws.
For an informative look at how the book and movie can be used in the classroom, see Dr. Randy Testa’s post, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–a history lesson.