What do you think?
What part of the book did you like the best? Why?
What part did you think was the funniest? The saddest?
The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 has some great characters. Which was your favorite? Do any of the characters remind you of yourself? In what ways are you the same? In what ways are you different?
Have you ever done something that you knew your parents didn't want you to do (like Bryon getting a "conk")? Write about what you did and why; include your parents' reaction to it and how you felt afterwards. Was it worth it? Why or why not?
Describe Kenny and Byron's relationship. Do they get along? Do they take care of each other? Give examples. Does their relationship change over the course of the book?
This book addresses injustice of all kinds, from racist attitudes to slighting a friend. Has anything unjust happened to you? Write about it...what happened, how did it make you feel, was it acknowledged, did the fact that it was acknowledged make you feel better?
The family went through a harrowing experience. How did Kenny express his feelings about the event?
How did each family member work through their own feelings? How did they help Kenny? Do you think they should have done something differently?
Remember this book is set in 1963. It may be hard for you to imagine now, but then, in most of the South, African Americans were not allowed to go to the same schools as whites...or use the same playgrounds or bathrooms, even restaurants. That's reflected a number of ways in the story; sometimes subtly, sometimes not. What are some scenes in which the characters have to deal with segregation or racist behavior?
What message do you think author Christopher Paul Curtis wants you to take away from The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963?
Fun & Adventure Beyond the Book
Lots of people and organizations worked to end racial discrimination and segregation. They held sit-ins and boycotts, protest marches and voter registration. You're familiar with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., but there were thousands of other people all working for civil rights. At the same time, there was a lot of tension because there were also people that wanted things to remain the same. Some resorted to violence — gunshots, fires and bombings — to try and stop the people working for civil rights. Many of those bombings happened in Birmingham.
Despite the danger, the civil rights movement gained support across the country. Laws were enacted in the 1960s to prevent discrimination against African Americans. The rights movement is still going on, and at the heart of it is the belief that as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are. Lots of websites explore the civil rights movement: here are two about the veterans and the historic places of the movement. This site provides a variety of resources documenting African American history and the fight for equal rights, starting with the Dred Scott case in 1857 and ending with the school desegregation plans of the 1970s.
You can tell author Christopher Paul Curtis loves music and writing. But you probably didn't know he spent his first 13 years after high school working on the Buick assembly line, hanging doors. (Maybe that's why the Brown Bomber is so lovingly described!) There's a lot more to learn about Curtis.
What did you think about the Ultra Glide? It played only 45s — small vinyl records that had only two songs on them, one song per side. In this day of MP3 players and CDs, that sure sounds clunky! Learn more about the history of record formats (like why was it called a "45"...) and see photos of the various record sizes.
Music played a big part in the book and in the 1960s. "The Motown Sound" was a style of music created in Detroit in the early 1960s with a distinctive sound that was a hit with both black and white audiences. Artists like the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Otis Redding and more helped create the sound. Explore the history of Motown Sound here with lots of related links and audio clips.
The Ultra Glide is a collector's item. Interested in seeing what your parents' record collection may be worth? Check out this record collector's guide.
Both Flint, Michigan and Birmingham, Alabama play a role in this book. Check out their official websites to see what these cities are like today.
Our featured excerpt started with the fallout Byron experienced after he got his hair "conked." What's the big deal about a hairdo? This essay explores one writer's opinion on the values implied by a particular hairdo. What do you think? Do you agree with the writer?
If You Like This Book, Check Out...
Grace Greene, from the Vermont Department of Libraries, says if you liked The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963, youll probably enjoy these books as well:
Other titles by Christopher Paul Curtis:
Bucking the Sarge. Lamb, 2004.
Deeply involved in his cold and manipulative mother's shady business dealings in Flint, Michigan, fourteen-year-old Luther keeps a sense of humor while running the Happy Neighbor Group Home For Men, all the while dreaming of going to college and becoming a philosopher.
Bud, Not Buddy. Delacorte, 1999.
Ten-year-old Bud, a motherless boy living in Flint, Michigan, during the Great Depression, escapes a bad foster home and sets out in search of the man he believes to be his father - the renowned bandleader, H.E. Calloway of Grand Rapids.
Guy, Rosa. The Ups and Downs of Carl Davis III. Delacorte, 1989.
In a series of letters to his parents and friends, twelve-year-old Carl Davis III, chronicles his initial anger, confusion, and disdain as well as his gradual change of heart about being sent to a small Southern town to live with his grandmother.
Lynch, Chris. Gold Dust. HarperCollins, 2000.
In 1975, twelve-year-old Richard befriends Napolean, a Caribbean newcomer to his Catholic school, hoping that Napolean will learn to love baseball and the Red Sox, and will win acceptance in the racially polarized Boston school.
Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. Mayfield Crossing. Putnam, 1993.
When the school in Mayfield Crossing is closed, the students are sent to larger schools, where the black children encounter racial prejudice for the first time. Only baseball seems a possibility for drawing people together.
Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Dial, 1976.
A black family living in the South during the 1930's are faced with prejudice and discrimination which their children don't understand. Also other books by Taylor.