Browse Content     The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Kenny Watson and his family embark on a road trip from Michigan to Alabama.

Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.

5th Grade Short Story 910L
Sandra Cisneros 1991
Passage Summary:

In Sandra Cisneros’s “Eleven,” a girl is forced to wear a sweater that doesn’t belong to her on her birthday.

When and How to Pair: Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 2, in order for them to understand the first-person point of view and the technique of using vignettes to tell a story. Have students discuss what they have learned about Kenny and his family through the little stories he tells about his life. What are the similarities and differences between how Rachel and Kenny share their thoughts and feelings? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks that you might imagine comes with reading books that have a first-person narrator? How do vignettes help us understand the narrator?
4th Grade Fiction 930L
The Rescue of the Tin Woodman
L. Frank Baum 1900
Passage Summary:

In L. Frank Baum’s “The Rescue of the Tin Woodman,” Dorothy and the Scarecrow help the Tin Woodman.

When and How to Pair: Have students read this excerpt after Chapter 4, in order to explore the theme of friendship. What are the similarities and differences between how Kenny and Rufus become friends, when compared to how Dorothy and the Tin Woodman become friends? Have students discuss similar examples from their own lives.
7th Grade Informational Text 1070L
Emmett Till
Jessica McBirney 2016
Passage Summary:

This informational text explains how the murder of Emmett Till helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

When and How to Pair: Introduce this text after Chapter 8, in order to provide context on why Kenny’s parents are so nervous about visiting Grandma Sands in the south. Just like the Watsons, Emmett Till travelled from a northern city to a more racially segregated southern city, and his mother warned him he would need to behave differently. Have students discuss the different reader reactions to the killers’ confession in "Look". How much importance should be placed on where those readers were based? How might the Watsons have been influenced by the dividing attitudes in the country?
8th Grade Poem
Nikki Giovanni 1972
Passage Summary:

In Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Mothers,” the speaker describes the different ways she has seen her mother throughout her life.

When and How to Pair: Have students read this poem after they have read Chapter 12, in order to help them analyze Kenny’s relationship with his mother. In Chapters 11 and 12, Kenny is witnessing his mother in a new environment. Have students discuss how the new surroundings might change Kenny’s understanding of his mother. How do you think Kenny felt watching his mother talk with Grandma Sands about Mr. Robert and their family? Contrast the speaker’s view of her mother in Giovanni’s poem with Kenny’s view of his own mother. How are the views of their mothers influenced by their circumstances and setting?
5th Grade Fable 710L
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Aesop 620-560 B.C.
Passage Summary:

The classic fable of a sheep herder boy who lies and pays the price.

When and How to Pair: Have students read this fable after Chapter 13. By now students would have read several examples of the stories Byron makes up and how he uses them. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a classic example of a story used to teach children a lesson. Ask students to compare and contrast the lessons from these two stories. Why would people tell the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf?” Why does Byron tell his siblings the story of the Wool Pooh?
5th Grade Informational Text 1110L
The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing
Jessica McBirney 2016
Passage Summary:

The bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1960s was both a tragic and pivotal event of the Civil Rights movement.

When and How to Pair: Have students read this text after Chapter 14, in order to provide historical context on the bombing that occurs at the church. Ask students to reflect on the event. Why do you think the author chose not to include more historical facts about the bombing in his book and instead focus on Kenny’s experience? Does knowing more about what really happened change how they think about Kenny’s telling of the event? How has living with Byron’s acts of violence prepared Kenny, or not prepared him, to witness something like this?
8th Grade News 1150L
Local Children's Reactions to 9-11 Tragedy
Connie Llanos 2011
Passage Summary:

In “Local Children’s Reactions to 9-11 Tragedy,” students discuss their reactions to September 11, 2001 and how their lives have been impacted by this event.

When and How to Pair: Introduce this text after Chapter 15, to generate a discussion on how children respond to large-scale tragedies like 9/11 or the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. Have students compare some of the accounts in Llanos’ article with how Byron, Kenny, and Joey all react to the bombing. How does Byron change because of the events he saw? How do you think Kenny will remember the church bombing when he is older? Do you think the Watsons made the right choice not to tell Joey about what happened?