The Watsons go to Birmingham — 1963
Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a homeschool parent may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help a young learner understand human behavior. Using the acronym Q.U.I.L.T., Dr. Slaughter offers readers information about the author’s background along with the Quality of writing, Universal theme, Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise.
Family is an integral part of the African American culture often celebrated in pop culture television shows and movies like “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Blackish,” and “Soul Food”. These shows epitomize the strong African American mother who is eclipsed by the stronger African American grandmother both flanked by supportive husbands, precocious children, and nosey aunts and uncles. The African American family, depicted in the media in myriad ways, is iconic.
We laugh at the silly sitcoms of the African American family on TV, but do the media images hold some semblance of truth? We see the staunch, yet regal, hardworking mother who is the mouthpiece of the family, quick to throw her house shoe at her “smart mouth” kids. She is sassy on her own, but a force to be reckoned with when her sisters show up only to give lip service to the husband who gets the big piece of chicken at family dinner. These images of the African American family illustrate family values the most prevalent being “family is everything.” The importance of family and the values the entity brings has a long history.
Christopher Paul Curtis, Author
Paul was born to a podiatrist father and teacher mom in Flint, Michigan, on May 10, 1953. Paulis the oldest of five siblings. The author of a host of books, Paul featured Flint in several of his narratives. Paul’s book put Flint in the minds of many young readers, but the city, which is 66 miles northwest of Detroit, is now on our minds for other reasons.
And, unfortunately, the Flint water crisis is just one of the many tragedies Flint residents have endured. Americans remember Flint as the “automobile manufacturing powerhouse” that fell to ruins in the 80’s, and the subsequent crime explosion that pushed the government officials to call a state of financial emergency in 2002. In the early seventies, at 19 years old, Paul graduated from Flint Southwestern High School and enrolled in Flint University of Michigan founded in 1956.
Hoping to fund his college education and secure his future, Paul landed a job at “Fisher Body Plant No. 1” established in 1908. His hard work as a blue collar factory worker did not overshadow his intellectual abilities. He spent a lot of time at the plant reading and writing on his breaks. Bud Caldwell of the book Bud, Not Buddy was born while Paul was on the factory line. Paul, who resides in Detroit, continues to write books for young readers. His book The Watsons go to Birmingham — 1963 is a favorite choice in school libraries and bookstores across the country.
Quality- In his book The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 (Yearling, 1963), Paul introduces his readers the Watson family. A classic tale of family values, the book won three prestigious awards including The John Newbery Medal given by the Association for Library Service to a book that is "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." The novel also received the Golden Kite Award. More than 1,000 selections are submitted for review. Finally, the book received The Coretta Scott Award “given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
Universal theme- The theme of family is poignant in this novel. The narrative resonates with family who love each other, but erupt in crazy arguments every other day, and show a bond that cannot be broken despite it being tested.
Imaginative plot- The book opens with Byron Watson, a spitfire of a boy who often misuses his “smarts” in dumb ways. Freezing his lips to the mirror of the family’s new wheels is just one example. His younger brother Kenny is witness to the foolishness that Byron spins on a daily basis. But, one day Mr. and Mrs. Watson decide that Byron breaks the proverbial camel’s back and they vow to take him to his petite, aging grandmother who lives in Flint, Michigan. It is during the family’s travels to Flint they find themselves in the midst of a historical tragedy: the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church burning.
Lesson plan: The Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church burning was the hateful act of white supremacists that killed four beautiful Black girls between the ages of eleven and fourteen. The book is the perfect sidekick to a lesson about the bombing of the church. Lessons should center around the lives of the four girls. Who were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair?
Talking points: The novel The Watsons go to Birmingham–1963 (Yearling, 1963) offers the human experience behind the violence that plagued 1963. Known as the “defining year of the civil rights movement,” the book includes historical elements that should spark a lovely discussion about protests.
- What is white supremacy? What was the message of white supremacy? Who were the key leaders who stood up against these messages of hate?
- Why was the family’s car, “The Brown Bomber”, such an iconic image and an important one to include in the story?
- What are the Watson’s family values? And how do the family’s values mirror the civil rights movement?
Dr. Rachel A. slaughter
Dr. Rachel Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University.
Dr. Rachel Slaughter
Doctor of Cognitive Studies in Reading
Dr. Rachel Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University. Her dissertation explores multicultural literature in private schools through the lens of Critical Pedagogy. Her new book titled “Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature” will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2020.