Cover image for The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963
The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963
Publication Information:
New York : Listening Library, c1995.
Physical Description:
4 sound cassettes (300 min.) : analog.
Added Author:
The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Enter the world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the "weird" Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Mom and Dad decide to visit Grandma, the Watsons head off to Birmingham, Alabama, where they witness a tragic historic event.

This " the story from warm family anecdote to blazing national historythe best...we've ever heard." (USA Today)

Author Notes

Newbery Medal-winning children's book author Christopher Paul Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan on May 10, 1953 and graduated from The University of Michigan. While there he won the Avery and Jules Hopwood Prizes for poetry and a draft of one of his early books. Curtis spent thirteen years on an assembly line hanging car doors.

His story The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 received a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor, and Bud, Not Buddy became the first novel to win both of these awards. Elijah of Buxton received the 2008 Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and a Newbery Honor. Curtis also won the 2009 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers' Literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

A 1996 Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor book, this comic tale, narrated by a 10-year-old boy, describes an eccentric family's unwitting trip South to visit Grandma‘during one of the stormiest times of the Civil Rights movement. PW's boxed, starred review called it "an exceptional first novel." Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Fiction: as they travel South in 1963 and become witnesses of a tragic event of the civil-rights movement. Curtis has created a wholly original novel in this warmly memorable evocation of an African-American family and their experiences that are both terrible and transcendent."" Age: mvp A novel that begins as a lighthearted romp follows ten-year-old Kenny and the rest of the Horn Rating: Outstanding, noteworthy in style, content, and/or illustration. Reviewed by: Weird Watsons"""" of Flint (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-8. In a voice that's both smart and naive, strong and scared, fourth-grader Kenny Watson tells about his African American family in Flint, Michigan, in 1963. We get to know his strict, loving parents and his tough older brother, who gets into so much trouble his parents decide to take him back "home" to Birmingham, Alabama, where maybe his strong grandmother will teach him some sense. Several of the family stories are a bit self-conscious (we keep being told we're going to laugh as Dad puts on a show and acts the fool), but the relationships aren't idealized. Racism and the civil rights movement are like a soft rumble in the background, especially as the Watsons drive south. Then Kenny's cute little sister is in a Birmingham church when a bomb goes off. She escapes (Curtis doesn't exploit the horror), but we're with Kenny as he dreads that she's part of the rubble. In this compelling first novel, form and content are one: in the last few chapters, the affectionate situation comedy is suddenly transformed, and we see how racist terror can invade the shelter of home. --Hazel Rochman

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-In the only Newbery Honor book to make my list, the weighty issues and historical perspectives don't get in the way of a very funny family. Byron plays some awful tricks on his younger brother Kenny, but readers can't help but laugh at some of his less harmful teasing. He tells a convincing story to little sister Joey about how garbage trucks scoop up frozen Southern folks who don't dress warmly enough, and half-fools Kenny with his tall tale. While the boys supply many of the laughs, it's clear that they get their sense of humor from their dad. His gentle teasing and tongue-in-cheek exaggerations can be hilarious. Laughter and Tears Award: More than any other book on my list, the humor in The Watsons shifts to near tragedy and many thought-provoking developments. The serious stuff succeeds in part because readers grow so close to this family through the humor that comes earlier in the book. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Curtis debuts with a ten-year-old's lively account of his teenaged brother's ups and downs. Ken tries to make brother Byron out to be a real juvenile delinquent, but he comes across as more of a comic figure: getting stuck to the car when he kisses his image in a frozen side mirror, terrorized by his mother when she catches him playing with matches in the bathroom, earning a shaved head by coming home with a conk. In between, he defends Ken from a bully and buries a bird he kills by accident. Nonetheless, his parents decide that only a long stay with tough Grandma Sands will turn him around, so they all motor from Michigan to Alabama, arriving in time to witness the infamous September bombing of a Sunday school. Ken is funny and intelligent, but he gives readers a clearer sense of Byron's character than his own and seems strangely unaffected by his isolation and harassment (for his odd look--he has a lazy eye--and high reading level) at school. Curtis tries to shoehorn in more characters and subplots than the story will comfortably bear--as do many first novelists--but he creates a well-knit family and a narrator with a distinct, believable voice. (Fiction. 10-12)



Enter the hilarious world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint,Michigan. There's Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, Kenny, and Byron, Kenny's older brother,who, at thirteen, is an "official juvenile delinquent."When Momma and Dad decide it's time for a visit to Grandma, Dad comes home withthe amazing Ultra-Glide, and the Watsons set out on a trip like no other. Heading South,they're going to Birmingham, Alabama, and toward one of the darkest moments inAmerica's history.By turns comic, tragic, and touching, this remarkable Newbery Honor work, delightfullyperformed by LeVar Burton in this unabridged production, will delight listeners young andold as they meet Christopher Paul Curtis, a storyteller of bold ambition and a true andoriginal voice and his inimitable Watsons.Christopher Paul Curtis is the bestselling author of Bud, Not Buddy, winnerof the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, among many otherhonors. Christopher Paul Curtis grew up in Flint, Michigan. After high school,he began working on the assembly line at Fisher Body Flint Plant No. 1 whileattending the Flint branch of the University of Michigan, where he beganwriting essays and fiction. He is now a full-time writer. Look for Bud, NotBuddy on audio from Listening Library.LeVar Burton played Kunte Kinte in the acclaimed mini-series Roots. Hestarred in both Star Trek: The Next Generation films as Lt. Commander GeordiLaForge, the role he made famous on television. Other credits include aregular role on the CBS series Christy, and he serves as host and contributingproducer of the Emmy Award®-winning children's program Reading Rainbow. Excerpted from The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.