If you loved the tv show “Family Matters” in the 1990’s, you will probably also love “The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963”. The Watsons are a black family living in Flint, Michigan during the sixties. Kenny, the main character in the novel, is nine years old, with an older brother Byron and a younger sister Joetta. Kenny has a great time playing with plastic dinosaurs, reading books, and spending time with Dad, but gets picked on by bullies at school. His big brother comes to the rescue and chases off Kenny’s bullies. But Byron is constantly getting into trouble, hanging around with friends that aren’t good for him. Eventually, Momma and Dad decide that the best option is to drive down to Birmingham, Alabama, and leave Byron with the grandma for the summer. That will separate him from the bad influences and hopefully get him back on track. Unbeknownst to the Watsons, they are driving straight into a hot spot in the Civil Rights movement.
What I loved the most about this book was the relationship between Kenny and his brother. Byron would tease him, pick at him, and act like he didn’t want his little brother around, but when push came to shove, he really loved Kenny and always defended him. I also liked the way the whole family stuck together, whether it meant huddling together under a blanket on a frigid winter day, or driving across the country to get one member of the family away from bad things. They all cared deeply about each other, and that is the way it should always be with family.
The book dealt with a lot of serious subjects – racism, juvenile delinquency, bombings – but was kept from being too heavy and serious by a number of light-hearted parts. Parts like: Byron playing Nazi parachutes over the toilet, putting a record player in the family car, handling a bad hair job, sharing winter gloves, and of course, the stuck-to-the -car-mirror incident!
This book can be enjoyed by any age over nine, the age of the main character. It is also available as an audiobook, read aloud by Lavar Burton. (He is a fantastic narrator!)I have both read and listened to the book, and enjoyed it equally. This fine novel is available at libraries and bookstores across the country.
Newbery Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Award