• The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963     Study Guide #1

     

    STORY: The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963

    AUTHOR: Christopher Paul Curtis

     

    PLOT

     Kenny is a small, bullied fourth-grader, whose family decides to take a trip to Birmingham, Alabama. White men bomb an African-American church while the family is in Birmingham. The family must rely on one another to understand the frightening experience.

     

    THEME

    Equality, endurance, freedom, friendship family, respect, understanding,

     

    Setting

    The story begins in Flint, Michigan in the winter of 1963, but includes the

    familys visit to Birmingham, Alabama that summer.

     

    Characters

     Kenny Watson (narrator and main character, a small boy around ten years

    old); Byron Watson (Kennys older brother, a delinquent and bully); Joetta Watson

    (Kennys younger sister, a sensitive and religious child); Daniel Watson (the father);

    Wilona Watson (the mother); Grandma Sands (Wilonas mother); Rufus and Cody

    (hillbilly brothers who are new in town; Buphead (Byrons partner-in-crime); Mr. Robert

    (Grandma Sandss companion).

     

    CHAIN OF EVENTS

    Inciting Event and Climax: An African-American church near Grandma Sandss home in

    Birmingham is bombed by white men. Joetta is supposed to be in the church at the time

    the bomb explodes. Kenny enters the church searching for his sister. He cannot find her.

    Falling Action: The family immediately leaves Birmingham. They are shocked and

    confused by the occurrences there. Kenny is upset and confused. He isolates himself

    from others awaiting a magical cure, while his family worries about his well-being.

    Outcome: Kenny sees his sad face in the mirror and bursts into tears. Byron

    comforts him, saying Kenny should cry all he can. He explains to Kenny about the

    bombing in Birmingham. Byron assures Kenny he has no reason to feel fear, shame, or guilt. Because of Kenny, Byron explains, Joetta was saved. He tells Kenny that it is not magic that will

    make his negative feelings leave, and that magic does not exist. Byron explains that Kenny has to accept what has happened, deal with it, and move on.

    Resolution: Kenny begins to understand his brothers words, and

    is better able to deal with the day of the bombing. He disagrees with Byron on one thing,

    however. Kenny feels magic does exist. For Kenny, there is magic in words, in

    embraces, in friends, and most of all in families.

    Reaction: The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 is a realistic portrayal of a young child

    living in a hateful world. The characters learn the importance of togetherness and

    camaraderie as they realize the positive difference they can be in the lives of others.
     

    Characters from the novel

    The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963

    By Christopher Paul Curtis

    Kenny

    Kenneth Bernard Watson is the narrator of this story. Kenny is a smart kid who doesn't let things get to him, and is the main character. When he can, he enjoys making fun of his older brother, Byron. This doesn't happen often though. Kenny is 10 years old and in the 4th Grade. He has a lazy eye. Throughout the book Kenny faces friendship troubles, prejudice scenarios, and some very sad times, he also becomes self conscious. Kenny is also made fun of for his lazy eye and turning his head sideways when talking to people to hide the fact that he has it. He also is a very good reader, and he gets made fun of for it.

    Byron

    Byron Watson is another main character in this book. He is Kenny's brother, who is always mean to Kenny but nice to Joetta. Byron is a bully at school and is known as a "God" in school. He is very cocky and fond of himself. He is a dunce at times. He got his lips stuck on a mirror once earning him the nickname Lipless Wonder. He can be viewed as the main antagonist at times (along with Buphead)

    Wilona

    Wilona is Byron, Kenny, and Joey's mother and Daniel's wife. Her home city is Birmingham, Alabama, so she has a southern accent (Her accent gets worse whenever she's mad). She speaks in a snake voice and goes nearly insane if she has reached to that anger point. Whenever she is going to smile she always covers her mouth with her hand, because she has a huge gap in her front teeth. Wilona is a strict mother and only wants the best for her kids, though when Byron gets into trouble, she does whatever it takes to make him understand that he must become mature. She even tries to burn his fingers with fire for playing with matches and threatens to burn his entire hand if he looks at another match in the house.

    Joetta

    Joetta is nicknamed Joey. She is the sister of Byron and Kenny. She is a well-mannered young lady. Joetta is considered a big cry baby because whenever Byron gets in trouble she cries and begs her parents not to hurt him. Joey went to church the day of the bombing, but wasn't in the building when it happened, because she said that Kenny led her away from the church, although Kenny was not there. She loves her brother Byron and tries to protect him every time he gets in trouble.

    Daniel

    Daniel is the father of Joetta, Byron, and Kenny and the husband of Wilona. Daniel is "the fun parent", but he can be strict when he wants to. His hometown is Flint, Michigan. After Byron styles his hair in ultra fashion, this father becomes really upset about Byron's behavior, so he decides to cut Byrons whole hair off.

    Grandma Sands

    Grandma Sands is the grandmother of Kenny, Byron, and Joey. Kenny described her as a troll. She is very strict, but loving. Her Southern accent is much worse than Wilona's. When the Watsons reach Birmingham she greets them by saying, "My fambly, my beautiful, beautiful fambly." Her accent also poses a problem when telling the kids to avoid the "wool pooh" in Collier's Landing, which Byron tells the kids is Winnie the Poohs evil twin.

    Buphead

    Buphead is just like Byron. Buphead and Byron have done mean things to Kenny. Like when Buphead and Byron taught Kenny how to survive a blizzard. They shoved a snowball in Kenny's face. Buphead always did bad things with Byron, like beating up kids or making fun of how they talk or dress. He also gave Byron a conk.

    Rufus Fry

    Rufus is a new kid at Clark Elementary who has a little brother, Cody. Rufus has a farm-boy type accent. In the beginning of this book you can't tell they are poor, and the book doesn't directly say it, but you can infer they are poor, like the way they share the same shirt. Throughout the book, Kenny tries not to be their friends because it will make him "uncool", and also be made fun of. Even though deep down inside, Kenny actually likes them. Kenny felt so bad for them, so he shared his lunch with him. Rufus eventually becomes Kenny's best friend. In the end, Kenny is so depressed, he gives his dinosaurs to Rufus.

    Cody Fry

    Cody is Rufus's little brother, and looks like a shrunken version of Rufus. He also gets his lunch from Kenny.

    The Wool Pooh

    While Byron and Kenny are at Alabama, Byron tells Kenny about Winnie the Pooh's evil counterpart; the "Wool Pooh". Kenny thinks he sees the Wool Pooh at the lake where he nearly drowned, and after the Church Bombing. Of course, he didn't listen to Momma like Joetta and Byron did. The Wool Pooh was a mistaken word for "Whirlpool". The Wool Pooh is considered to be symbolic of fear.