The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963

Narrated by: LeVar Burton
Length: 4 hrs and 55 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,308 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Enter the hilarious world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. There's Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, Kenny, and Byron, Kenny's older brother, who at thirteen is an "official juvenile delinquent."

When Momma and Dad decide it's time for a visit to Grandma, Dad comes home with the amazing Ultra-Glide, and the Watsons set out on a trip like no other. Heading south, they're going to Birmingham, Alabama, and toward one of the darkest moments in America's history.

By turns comic, tragic and touching, this remarkable Newbery Honor work, delightfully performed by LeVar Burton in this unabridged production, will delight listeners young and old as they meet Christopher Paul Curtis, a storyteller of bold ambition and a true and original voice, and his inimitable Watsons.

©1995 Christopher Paul Curtis (P)1996 Random House, Inc., Listening Library, An Imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group

Critic Reviews

"Marvelous...both comic and deeply moving." (The New York Times Book Review)
"An exceptional first novel." (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Funny and Poignant Look at Civil Rights Era

I purchased this audio for my 12 year old and me to listen to, thinking it would be an introduction to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed 4 little girls (note I had always heard them referred to as the "four little girls" but I was interested to learn that they were 14).

It starts out pretty far away from that, as a mostly humorous look at an African American family in Flint, MI. My son liked how the book progressed as a series of vignettes, which made it easier to pause the book and resume listening later. There were many funny moments which I wasn't expecting.

Once we got to the end, "our" family has lived through the bombing and is dealing with the aftermath. Over the following days, my son continued to question why people would have killed children to prevent having to go to school and restaurants with people of a different race. It is a very hard situation to understand, and I thought this book did a great job of making it present for him, as opposed to an event in history that's impossible to understand or experience.

LeVar Burton is a wonderful narrator. He has a thoroughly pleasing voice that would be suitable to any number of books -- he dealt with the comedic and tragic aspects equally well. I plan to look for other books he's recorded.

The book ends with a brief overview of the history, which my son enjoyed almost as much as the fictional story.

22 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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11 - year old reviewer

If you could sum up The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 in three words, what would they be?

funny, witty ,and heart-felt.

Who was your favorite character and why?

My favorite character is Byron. He is really funny and disobedient which doubles the funniness.

Which scene was your favorite?

My favorite scene was when Byron Watson made a movie about Nazi parachuters getting shot down.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The part that moved me was when Byron saved his brother from the whirlpool.

Any additional comments?

This book is funny and sweet I've listened to it 3 times. I think you'll love it too.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A book for all Seasons

Excellent book. A great depiction of life in the 1960's. I called my grandchildren - who range in age from 7 to 13, and live in Chicago - to tell them about the wonderful book that I found and that we could cuddle in bed with a bowl of popcorn and listen to. I am going to visit for Easter and can't wait for the joy of listening again with them. Christopher Paul Curtis is an excellent storyteller and with LeVar Burton narrating, it was sheer joy. Coincidentally, when I told my eleven year old granddaughter about the book, she became very excited. It seems that her teacher had just that day recommended it to her to read.

5 people found this helpful

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💗This book rocks.💗

This book is better than any other book I have read,
I would recommend this book for ages 9-13! Teachers should read this book to there kids. 💖READ💖

6 people found this helpful

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Required reading but not too bad

I was required to "read" this book for a college level children's literature class. Usually when I'm assigned required reading I expect to be bored to tears because the books professors tend to pick are not often the types of books I prefer. However, this book wasn't bad. Along with "Alas Babylon" (required for another class) this was one of the better books I've been assigned. I was glad to see LaVar Burton as the narrator. I love his voice. It brought back so many memories of watching Reading Rainbow as a kid. His voice always sounds so relaxing and gentle. I feel like I'm curled up in front of a cozy fire no matter where I am when I hear him read. LaVar also has excellent diction and he utilizes pauses very well. He might not do voices like other narrators, but for this book it was just fine with me.

The story was also good. I wasn't able to relate to it completely or clearly judge it's realness because I'm not old enough to have experienced these events & others like it, I live in the North, and I'm white. That being said, I feel like it did give me a decent glimpse into what this family felt and experienced in both Flint, Michigan & Birmingham, Alabama at that time in history. It was interesting to see how children might have dealt with experiencing major civil rights events, how they worked out those emotions & logic in their own mind, and how they related it to what was happening in their own lives at the time.

All in all I think it's a good story & worth the listen, for kids & even an adult like me. :)

6 people found this helpful

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So inspirational

I luv this book an I HATE reading an I mean it I recommend it for first time readers you'll luv it if you try

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A story you'll want to share

1. Read and enjoy

2. Give this book to:
-smart or artistic kids who sometimes don't think they fit in; they will relate to the narrator.
-kids who love being entertained by TV but not by books; they will look forward to each new chapter as if it were an episode of their favorite show.
-children you wish knew a little more about America's recent history; they will learn a little about the Civil Rights Movement without feeling like they're being "taught."
-children who are dealing with a recent trauma or death; this is full of humor and tragedy and offers advice about moving on.
-adults who want something that's a pleasure to listen to, but will still get them thinking; this is precisely the book they're looking for.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Carlskobe

I had a hard week at work and I just wanted to listen to something down to earth. This wonderful book and it characters took me back to a time when life was much simpler. Even with the racial tention life in itself was so uncomplicated. It was a time when family met something.It was nice to be with the Watson and be a kid again.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Hilarious and moving

I love this book and have listened to it several times. Set during the times of the Civil Rights movement it is a story of the hilarious happenings of the "weird Watsons" and their trip to Burmingham from Michigan. Quite the culture shock for them but this is one of the best family stories our family has heard in long time!

2 people found this helpful

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An unexpected delight, almost a five... if

This Newberry Honor winning book is so close to a perfect home-run: the narration is spot on, the slow moving plot entertains all the way through with a gradual layering of character building that made me feel like part of Kenny's, 60's family in Flint, Michigan. I loved my visit to a home that might have eaten that embarrasing food stamp food a time or two, where kids were kids and worried about getting their face "Whirlpooled" and had parents who loved them dearly and made life fun. However, I am very sensitive to swearing and did notice the scattered curse words though the book, which wasn't enough to really bother me... until I stopped to think it was written for children. True young Kenny, the narrator, doesn't swear but older brother and parents are recorded though his eyes. The book also includes the bombing of a black church, where the much adored younger sister is attending Sunday school and the reader experiences the family's terror from outside the church. So I guess what I am saying is... even though the beginning is very light-hearted, warm and so very well written... it is more appropriate for older readers. I was also just a little dissapointed in what felt like a maniputlated ending. I was so sucked into the story, that at the end when I had to suspend my disbelief it was jarring.

3 people found this helpful