Back To Course11th Grade English: Help and Review
19 chapters | 281 lessons | 1 flashcard set
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Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 is the story of the Watson family of Flint, Michigan. The eldest son, Byron, the self-proclaimed 'King of Clark', is a sixth-grader at Clark Elementary School for the second time. He's a stubborn bully who's bigger and meaner than most of the kids at school. Kenny, the narrator, is in fourth grade, and little sister Joetta (called Joey) is a kindergartner. Kenny often gets picked on,by his older brother and his friend Buphead and by the fourth-grade bully, Larry Dunn.
Kenny's pretty miserable until Rufus Fry moves to Flint and winds up on Kenny's bus. Rufus' family is poor and from the South, so Kenny hopes the bullies will target Rufus instead. But Kenny gets to know Rufus when the two are paired on a project in school, and they become best friends.
Kenny is overshadowed by big brother Byron, whose constant trouble keeps the family on its collective toes. Byron's list of trouble includes getting his lips stuck to the mirror of the family's car (he was kissing the glass in sub-freezing weather), getting into numerous fights at school, doing so poorly he's at risk of repeating sixth grade again, setting fires, stealing, and having a meltdown after accidentally killing a bird with a cookie he stole.
But when Byron gets his hair straightened, Momma and Daddy put their feet down. They announce that they are heading south to Birmingham, Alabama, where Momma grew up, to visit Grandma Sands. They tell Byron he's going to stay there until he learns to behave. Grandma Sands is very strict, and Momma and Daddy think she'll be able to straighten Byron out.
At first, things go very well in Alabama. Byron actually behaves himself. Kenny, however, suffers in the extreme heat and humidity. The kids want to go swimming, but Grandma Sands tells them not to go to Collier's Landing because there's a whirlpool where a boy recently drowned. Inspired, Byron tells Kenny and Joey a story about Winnie-the-Pooh's evil twin, the Wool Pooh (a corruption of the word 'whirlpool'), who pulls kids under the water and drowns them.
Joey's properly terrified, but Kenny decides to disregard his grandmother's warning and go swimming anyhow. He gets caught in the whirlpool and nearly drowns, but Byron manages to pull him out in time. To Kenny's confusion and surprise, Byron sobs after saving him.
While Kenny is still recovering from his near drowning, Joey decides to go to Sunday School with some friends of her grandmother's at 16th Street Baptist, a real church in Birmingham. Before she leaves, Kenny compliments her on her shiny shoes. But while Joey is there, a bomb explodes in the basement of the church. The family rushes to the church, but they can't find Joey. Kenny finds a ripped shoe that looks just like the one Joey was wearing. He picks it up and runs home, terrified that the Wool Pooh has gotten his little sister.
While Kenny is cowering in his grandma's house and the rest of the family is frantically searching the rubble of the church for Joey, Joey wanders home. She tells Kenny she thought she saw him in the street outside the church and followed him. She hadn't even been at the church when it exploded. Soon, the rest of the family returns home and is overjoyed to see Joey. That night, the Watsons pack up and return to Flint, deciding the racially tense South is no place for them or Byron.
While everyone is shaken by the bombing, Kenny seems to take it the hardest. He hides and refuses to talk to anyone. Byron, who has matured and mellowed, talks to Kenny. Kenny bursts into tears and explains to Byron that he is ashamed he didn't even try to save his sister. Byron tells Kenny that the bombing is not his fault and there was nothing he could have done. Kenny decides to come out from hiding and be part of his family again.
Kenny Watson is the middle child and the narrator of the story. He's a typical fourth-grader; he likes playing with dinosaurs and outside with his friends. Kenny gets picked on a lot by the other kids. He's also very smart, and when he is forced to read out loud to the sixth-grade class, his torment continues. Kenny is very different from his older brother and younger sister and sometimes doesn't feel like he fits in with his family very well. Kenny has an overactive imagination and things like the Wool Pooh terrify him.
Byron Watson is the oldest Watson child and sort of a bad seed. He is constantly in trouble at home, at school, and with the law. He sometimes shows glimpses of his humanity - like when he cries over a bird he's killed and when he saves Kenny from the water - but Byron's misbehavior is a big problem for the Watson family. Byron does improve drastically after the shock of almost losing his brother and his sister in the same week.
Joetta (Joey) Watson is the youngest of the Watsons. She is a sweet, sensitive little girl who refuses to be bullied by either of her big brothers. She tries to defend and protect both of them, even though it sometimes lands her in trouble. In the story, Joey represents all the little girls who were lost in the church bombing. She puts a face on the innocent girls lost.
Daniel Watson (Daddy) is the head of the Watson family. He loves to joke around and goof off in front of his family. He is obviously still head-over-heels for Kenny's mother, and much of his teasing is reserved for her. However, Daddy is also a good man. He talks to Kenny like he is a grownup and even sometimes manages to cheer up Byron. But he does put his foot down when he needs to.
Wilona Watson (Momma) the Watson family matriarch, can be a bit of a mama bear when it comes to her kids, but she won't take any flack from them. She is tougher on Byron than Daddy, even going so far as to try to burn his finger when he plays with matches. Fortunately for Byron, Joey manages to stop her. Momma misses the South and always wants to go back there, but realizes that things for the family are better in Flint.
Rufus Fry is the new kid at Clark Elementary, a poor boy from Arkansas who just doesn't fit in. He and Kenny become friends and Rufus feels betrayed when Kenny laughs at him. But he gives Kenny another chance, and Kenny realizes that Rufus is a true friend.
Grandma Sands is a tiny old woman who has a reputation for being strict. She loves on the kids and cries when they first come, but she manages to have Byron saying 'Yes, ma'am' within a few hours. She doesn't take any misbehavior from the Watson kids - or their parents.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham is a coming-of-age story about Kenny and Byron Watson. It's considered a coming-of-age story because they both learn lessons that help them grow as people and care for their family. Family and friendshipis another theme of this novel. Kenny learns both his place in his family and the importance of being a true friend.
Race relations and civil rights are both important themes in this novel as well. The novel is set against the protests over school integration in Alabama, and the Northern Kenny is amazed at the racism that still exists in the South. The racial tension in Birmingham culminates in the church bombing that killed four little black girls and injured 22 others.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham is the story of the Watson family of Flint, Michigan and their experiences traveling down to Birmingham, Alabama in an effort to fix the problems present in one of their children. The characters of Kenny, the narrator of the story and the middle child of the Watson family and Byron, the eldest brother and problem child, are the primary conduits for the themes of this coming-of-age story. Meaning, it shows the growth of these characters into more mature human beings.
The themes of the story include those of family and friendship, which is expressed by Kenny learning his place in the family and the value of being a true friend. And race relations in the South, which is expressed by the pivotal moment of the plot where the 16th Street Baptist Church is bombed, a real part of Southern history.
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Back To Course11th Grade English: Help and Review
19 chapters | 281 lessons | 1 flashcard set
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