The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963


Welcome to the landing page for the Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963! This initiative is dedicated to curriculum centered on the Newbery Honor-winning book by Christopher Paul Curtis, and is the second in a National Park Service series called Books-to-Parks. Books-to-Parks connects award-winning children’s fiction to the real geographic and historical settings where they are set. Channel Islands National Park launched the pilot, based on the book Island of the Blue Dolphins. For more, visit: Island of the Blue Dolphins (U.S. National Park Service) (

Curtis’ novel unfolds at a critical juncture in the Civil Rights Movement and culminates with the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. It is a family story set in Flint and Birmingham—and on the interstate between. The Books-to-Parks site presents oral histories and primary source documents from Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), Alabama Department of Archives and History, Kids in Birmingham-1963, the Flint Public Library and many more to contextualize and extend themes implicit in the novel, including how racism affected everyday lives in the 1960s South and North. And while Watsons takes place nearly 60 years ago, children’s role in the struggle to eradicate racism continues. This collaboration between scholars, partners, and community elders taps a popular and widely-taught novel to equip youth with historical and contemporary knowledge essential to building a more just society. From this landing page, you will find:

  • Chapter summaries of Watsons. A guide that links the novel to real places and events.

  • Fact Checks. Questions that encourage exploration of what in the novel is true, what is fiction, and what is implied but left unsaid. Answers are linked to primary and secondary sources, enabling visitors to “do history” for themselves.

  • Lesson plans that extend the reading of Watsons. Linked to the Common Core State Standards and to rich source material, including the historic places constituting the National Monument, the lessons deepen reading and encourage historical thinking.
  • Child-friendly content by academic experts. A Voices from the Field section includes informational narratives on the themes undergirding Watsons, including how systemic racism manifested in the postwar North and South and how African American communities worked to redress inequalities everywhere. The goal: bridging the gap between the academy and grade schools by bringing current scholarship in history, African American Studies, and sociology to bear on young people’s conversations about race.

We welcome feedback on the site! Please contact us if you have ideas or suggestions.


Reading Guides

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    Voices from the Field

    Voices from the Field consists of short essays on many aspects of The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. Civil rights foot soldiers and experts from a range of disciplines including history, linguistics, literature, and psychology discuss how their research and lived experiences connect to both the fictional story and historical bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

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      Lesson Plans

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        About Books to Parks

        The Books to Parks project links widely-recognized works of children’s and young adult literature to the natural, cultural, and historical resources protected by the US government. By connecting young people to parks via literature, Books to Parks encourages youth to develop appreciation for and stewardship of NPS sites. Simultaneously, the project encourages critical engagement with literature, providing readers with carefully curated resources that facilitate deep contextualization of texts.

        Last updated: September 20, 2023

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        Contact Info

        Mailing Address:

        Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
        1914 4th Ave North
        Suite 440

        Birmingham, AL 35203



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