The Watsons Go to Birmingham Free Book Study
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 is a historical fiction novel by Christopher Paul Curtis. It tells the story of an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, in 1963. The story is told from the point of view of the family’s middle child, 10-year-old Kenny. When the Watsons’ oldest son, Byron, keeps getting into trouble, the parents decide he should spend the summer and possibly the next school year with Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama. The entire family travels there together by car. While in Birmingham, Joetta (the family’s youngest child) is attending Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church when it is tragically bombed. Joetta is unharmed, but the family is changed forever.
This book is a great way to introduce your children to the effects of racism, the civil rights movement, life in the 1960s, and the differences between the North and South in the United States during that time. You could have your children read this book independently, or you could read it aloud together as a family. Common Sense Media recommends the book for ages 10+. However, if you read it aloud, you could possibly use it with children who are a little younger. The book does contain some mild swearing and other content that may be objectionable to some families. However, if you are reading the book to your children, you can easily edit or omit anything problematic. For more information about the content of the book, read Common Sense Media’s review. Be sure to click on each category under “The parents’ guide to what’s in this book” for additional details.
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Where to Find the Book
Free Book Study Materials
Walden Media created this very detailed Educator’s Resource for The Watsons Go to Birmingham. The PDF resource is 135 pages long. It begins with teaching tips, information about the book, and historical context. Then there is a section for each of the books’ 15 chapters. For each chapter, there are vocabulary words, discussion & comprehension questions, and writing prompts. There are also links to various articles and videos your family can use to explore the historical events and other topics mentioned in each chapter. Towards the end of the resource, a section covers the movie, which was based on the book. This section includes discussion questions about the film and questions that encourage the students to compare scenes in the movie to what happened in the book. Be sure not to overlook the appendices at the end of the resource. The appendices include additional teaching ideas and links to many videos your family can watch to learn more about civil rights.
Scholastic BookFiles also created a downloadable Reading Guide for The Watsons Go to Birmingham. It’s about half the length as the one from Walden Media, but it’s still a good choice, especially if you don’t have time to cover the book in as much depth. Scholastic’s guide begins with information about the author and an author interview. The next section of the guide has three or four comprehension questions for each chapter of the book. Next, there are sections that explore the book’s plot, setting (including historical context), themes, and characters. The guide concludes with writing prompts, additional activities, and suggestions for related reading.
Movies to Watch
Your family might like to wrap up your study of The Watsons Go to Birmingham with a movie or two.
Selma Lord Selma – Disney produced this movie based on the 1965 March from Montgomery, AL to Selma, AL. The story is told from an 11-year-old girl’s point of view. While intended to be appropriate for children, some scenes may be disturbing to younger viewers, so use your discretion.
An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win – Set in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement, this American Girl episode follows the life of a 10-year-old African American girl. This show should be appropriate for most children 7+.
4 Little Girls – This is Spike Lee’s documentary about the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Due to sensitive content, Walden Media’s guide does not recommend it for children under 14.
Selma – This movie follows the events leading up to 1965’s Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Due to quite a bit of strong language and violence, I wouldn’t show it to kids younger than high school age. See this review for more info.