“I ain’t never heard of no sickness that makes you kill little girls just because you don’t want them in your school. I don’t think they’re sick at all, I think they just let hate eat them up and turn them into monsters.”
I’ve been staring at The Watson’s Go to Birmingham-1963 on my bookshelf for a good long while now. I was told that it was good. That is was funny. But due to the title, I assumed it would be heavy. I can be destroyed by these middle grade novels. Nothing pulls at the heart strings like the voice of a child trying to make sense of an adult world.
I was right, but I was also wrong. This was heavy. But it was also very funny, and it was funny more than it was heavy. The (Weird) Watson’s live in Flint, Michigan. They’re a family of five; Byron’s thirteen, Kenny’s ten (?), and Joey’s six. Their dad works for one of the auto companies in Michigan, and the family is blue collar, bordering on poor. Despite the lack of funds, they’re happy. They’re lovable, like the Bagthorpe’s or the Durrell’s (these are my favorite dysfunctional families). Byron is a bully with a heart. Kenny’s sensitive and smart. And Joey’s the only girl and spunky. They play, get in trouble, watch cartoons, freeze during the winter, and deal with school. They’re normal, and although the world is harsh, they seem to be okay.
The family goes to Birmingham to visit their Grandma Sands in 1963.
Of course things change. Being black, in the south, in the 1960’s… what a cruel world. Another world entirely from what the Watson’s were accustomed to in northern Michigan.
“Man, they got crackers and rednecks up here that ain’t never seen no Negroes before. If they caught your ass out here like this they’d hang you now, then eat you later.”
The climax doesn’t occur until the end of the story…
The Watson’s are in Birmingham to visit Grandma Sands, and to leave Byron who needs some time away from the trouble in Michigan. It’s quiet in Birmingham, slower.
Then, one Sunday morning, there is a loud noise. No one knows what it is. Their dad thinks it could be a sonic boom.
They run into town where the church has exploded:
Addie Mae Collins- Born 4/18/49, died 9/15/63
Denise McNair- Born 11/17/51, died 9/15/63
Carole Robertson- Born 4/24/49, died 9/15/63
Cynthia Wesley- Born 4/30/49. Died 9/15/63
Read this. It’s powerful like only children’s literature can be.