The Watsons Go to Birmingham (Delacorte Press, 216 pages, $20.95 cloth) is a young adult novel by a Windsor, Ontario resident, Christopher Paul Curtis, aimed at the Grade 4 to 8 audience. The Watsons, originally from Alabama, are a middle-class black family living in Flint, Michigan. The time is 1963, and racial tensions in the South are simmering. It is in this climate that the ten-year-old narrator, Kenny, travels with his parents, his older brother Byron, and his little sister Joetta to Birmingham to visit his grandmother. Byron, the family's "official juvenile delinquent", who does things like torch toilet paper parachutes with matches, is the catalyst for the trip, his parents having decided that "the slower pace" of living with Grandma for a while will settle him down.
As fate would have it, the grandmother's church is bombed during the family's stay-a racially motivated bombing that takes the lives of four little girls. By the time this tragedy occurs, Curtis has made sure that his readers have gotten to know the likeable Watsons well and that they will, consequently, relate to the family's fear and sadness. Curtis does not exploit the tragedy, but does show-very effectively-how the world around us invades our families, our personal lives, our private space.