|Published in 1995 by Dell Laurel-Leaf|
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
|Victims of the Birmingham Church Bombing - 1963|
I was immediately reminded of the poem "Ballad of Birmingham" written by Dudley Randall. I usually read this poem with my classes in January, around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. The
|16th Street Baptist Church Bombing|
September 15, 1963
During the first part of the book, the readers get to know the Watsons as a family experiencing the ups and downs of family life and sibling rivalry. Because the book is narrated by Kenny Watson, a ten-year-old boy, the language and tone is often humorous. At times, I was reminded of the humor in the graphic novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid. One scene I found particularly funny was when Byron got his lips frozen to the mirror of their car, the Brown Bomber. Another humorous scene was when Byron got his hair "conked" and dad shaved his head bald. Other scenes include Kenny playing with his friends and Byron bullying his siblings.
One of the funniest scenes in the book begins with Byron trying to scare his brother and sister. "Even though I was in fourth grade I fell for a lot of the stuff Byron came up with. He made everything seem real interesting and important" (52). Byron looks around to make sure no one is listening, and then he attempts to convince his brother and sister that "fake" garbage trucks go around the neighborhood picking up frozen dead people.
As Kenny and Joey listen intently, Byron explains:
You see, some of them trucks ain't real garbage trucks at all. Joey, you was right, every cold morning like this the streets is full of dead, froze people. Some of the time they freeze so quick they don't even fall down, they just stand there froze solid! . . . That's where them fake garbage trucks come in. Every morning they go round picking the froze folks off the street, and they need them big doors because someone who got froze don't bend in the middle and they wouldn't fit in no regular ambulance. . . . Both of you gotta swear never, ever to try and look in the back of one of them trucks. I did it once and I'ma tell you, there ain't nothin' more horrible than seein' hundreds of dead, froze up Southern folks crammed up inside a garbage truck. It's a sight that I'ma carry to my grave with me" (53).Joey begins crying; Byron turns to Kenny and says, "Give my regards to Clark, Poindexter" (54) and leaves him to wipe away her tears. These scenes help the reader identify with the characters; older siblings often antagonize their younger siblings.
Slightly more than halfway through the book, Dad begins to get the Brown Bomber ready for their trip
By the time they arrive at Grandma Sands, the reader is more than half-way through the book. I kept wondering how they were going to connect the church bombing to the story and was surprised how little the book focused on the event because of the strong emphasis placed on it in the reviews that I read.
Nevertheless, this book is a good family book and reveals the Watsons as an ordinary, African American family experiencing life, and contrasts their lives with the racial tension and political upheaval going on in the background. This would be an excellent choice for students in middle school; I would consider it for struggling readers on the high school level as well.
Meet Christopher Paul Curtis
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