Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

     The Watsons Go to Birmingham is historical fiction about the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama 1963. 
     Byron is a fun character because he does things that I would never do.  This boy oozes confidence.  He is so in love with himself he freezes his lips to the side mirror of the car.  He sets things on fire, bleaches his hair, steals, sluffs school and picks on his little brother. 
     Even though he is the "bad" kid, he has a heart of gold.  He saves his brother, cries over a dead bird, and beats up anyone who dares to pick on his younger brother, Kenny. 
     Byron's bad behavior causes momma and dad to ship him off to grandma's house in Alabama.  Alabama is very different from Michigan.  The Watsons find a very segregated city in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.  The church in Birmingham is bombed, killing four little girls.  Kenny is forced to grow up quickly and brutally at the church.
     The only thing I did not like about the book is the limited time we look at the Civil Rights issue in Alabama.  The story builds up to it throughout the book, but it seemed anticlimactic once we got there. 
     It is a Newberry Award finalist and a great book set in the Civil Rights Movement.  My students and I loved the humor and the information we learned about Birmingham "Bombingham" in 1963. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


     You know it's going to be a great book when 8th graders are stealing each other's books to read it.  It took me a while to get into Gone, but if I were 15, I would have loved it. 
     Gone had an interesting plot line, but I was bored through the first half of the book.  The non-stop action wasn't enough to make me care about any of the characters.  I couldn't even keep track of most of them because they were only superficially developed.  Since I didn't feel invested in the characters, the epic battle seemed contrived.  Stephen King did a much better job of portraying the same battle in The Stand because I cared intensely about the characters.  Several characters died in Gone, and Michael Grant tried to make their deaths seem noble, but I just felt indifferent. 
     The evil controlling the book is an unknown force in the pit.  Since we do not truly understand this force, I didn't feel scared or intrigued or disgusted.  Instead it made everything seem hopeless.  If fate controls us and evil is unavoidable, why continue to fight? 
     Throwing man-eating coyotes into a day care with babies was cruel and did nothing to lead the plot forward.  It was a sad commentary on our society.  We have taught our children well.  Left alone they revert into us and willingly kill one another to survive. 
     The only character with a conscience for killing a girl becomes half asphalt and nearly unable to move by the end of the novel.  The character with the guiltiest conscience has the coolest weapon at the end.  He has been rewarded with nearly unlimited power.  It's not hard to see which character the kids will identify with in the novel.
      Okay, so that is my adult take on Gone.  As a kid, it is fast-paced, violent, and gritty.  Many of the characters develop superhero powers and use them to battle one another in huge battles that tear the town apart.  I would love it - especially if I had recently read other dystopian literature lately - like The Hunger Games.  As an adult, read The Stand