Christopher Paul Curtis. http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/authphoto_330/6203_curtis_christopher_paul.jpg. Beginnings. Curtis was born May 10, 1953. He was born in Flint, MI, the partial setting of many of his books . He is an alumnus of University of Michigan – Flint.
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Curtis was born May 10, 1953.
He was born in Flint, MI, the partial setting of many of his books .
He is an alumnus of University of Michigan – Flint.
Curtis, and his wife, Kaysandra, have two children.
Curtis spent his first 13 years after high school on the assembly line of Flint’s historic Fisher Body Plant #1.
Curtis took a year off of work to write his first novel, The Watsons Go To Birmingham--1963.
He wrote the novel in longhand in the Windsor Public Library and later his son, Steven, typed the story on the computer for him.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 - When Kenny's 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, the Watsons head from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama to visit Grandma Sands, the one person who can shape Byron up. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Paul_Curtis)
Bud, Not Buddy - It's 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud's got a few things going for him.
Bucking the Sarge - Luther T. Farrell has got to get out of Flint, Michigan. He just needs to escape the evil empire of the local slumlord, his mother.
Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission - When Russell's dog, Rodney Rodent, jumps into a mural to chase a demonic-looking gnome and disappears, the Flint Future Detectives are on the case.
Mr. Chickee's Funny Money - Mr. Chickee, the genial blind man in the neighborhood, gives 9-year-old Steven a mysterious bill with 15 zeros on it and the image of a familiar but startling face.
Elijah of Buxton - Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada West (now Ontario), a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. He’s best known in his hometown as the boy who made a memorable impression on Frederick Douglass. But things change when a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South.
Suggested Classroom Activities – The Watson’s go to BirminghamPre-Reading ActivityRecreate the period of the novel, having students list what they know about the early 1960s (how people dressed, the mood of the country, people who were in the news, music that was popular, etc.). Then have them create a time line of events that took place from 1960-1970 so a historical connection can be made to the time during which this novel takes place. Ask who has records or tapes of 1960s music (especially African American music) that can be shared with the class. Later compare the music that has been brought in to music mentioned in the novel.
Thematic ConnectionsHumor--Humor is woven throughout the book. Examples include Byron's lips getting stuck to the side mirror of the car (pages 12-14), Daniel mimicking Moses Henderson (pages 4-5), and Byron's frozen people story (pages 51-54). Have students reread what they feel is the funniest passage. Then have them write a funny passage they would like to add to this novel. Artwork can be added and pages laminated and bound into a book.Friendship -- Kenny becomes a real friend of Rufus, but realizes that he has damaged their relationship the moment he joins in laughing at Rufus on the bus (pages 43-46). Have students write about a situation in which they slighted someone without just cause, how they felt afterward, and what they did about it. How does Kenny's acknowledgment of his injustice help to correct it (page 45)?Family and Relationships (Siblings) -- Have students compare and contrast the three Watson children by using a Venn Diagram or a web. What are the class's impressions of the three? How would you describe Kenny and Byron's relationship? How do Kenny and Byron change in the course of the novel (especially after the church bombing)? Have students write about their own sibling relationships and compare them to the ones depicted in the novel. (Parental) Byron's mother threatens to set him on fire if he continues to play with matches (pages 66-74). This is an unbelievable punishment that she almost carries out. Was Byron's mother correct to choose such a harmful punishment? Was she bluffing to frighten Byron? How would it be viewed today? What should she have done?Getting along with others -- Have students examine Kenny's passage about bullying (pages 58-63) and discuss alternatives to bullying. When should mediation intervene? How do you avoid such situations? See if the class can brainstorm to develop solutions.
Interdisciplinary ConnectionsHistory (Civil Rights)–Life in 1963 was quite different for African Americans than it is today, especially in the South. The '60s were turbulent times in America. After reading the novel, have students find inferences that blacks and whites were treated differently (pages 5-6). Check reference books in the school media center for historical details of the Birmingham church bombing and look for the names of the young girls listed on the “In Memory of” page. Probe the question raised by Kenny (p. 199), “Why would they hurt some little kids like that?” Have students create a class book on What America Was Like When the Watsons Went to Birmingham in 1963.
Interdisciplinary Connections (cont.)
Language/Language Arts–Kenny often refers to his mother and father as “talking Southern.” Consult your media center to secure tapes of language patterns of various regions. Have students tape-record the speech of relatives with regional accents. Provide a preset passage for each speaker to read. In a listening activity, play the tapes for your students and see if they can detect the different speech patterns.Geography–Wilona plans to discuss all the states she and her family drive through on their trip from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama. Use pushpins and yarn to chart the trip on a class map, down I-75 beginning in Flint and ending in Birmingham. Have students research each state that the family passes through and the major cities along I-75. Discuss what the Watsons might have seen.
Interdisciplinary Connections (cont.)
Science–Throughout the novel there is a continuous discussion among family members about the merits of Michigan and Birmingham winters. As the novel opens, Kenny describes the day as being “a zillion degrees below zero” (p. 1). In a funny episode, Byron gets his lips stuck to the side-view mirror of the car in subzero weather. Discuss what could have caused Byron’s lips to stick to the mirror. How does skin freeze to ice? Have a dialogue with students about some of the properties of water–i.e., its freezing point being 320 F (00 C) and its expansion as it freezes. Have students conduct the following simple activities:The Sticking Ice Tray–Needed: a tray of ice just out of the freezer. Note that the tray will stick to your fingers. Here’s why: If the tray and ice cubes are below the freezing point of water, the warmth of the hand will melt a thin layer of frost. Then, as the hand is cooled, the layer of water will freeze again. It is possible that the hand or finger can freeze so tightly to the tray that a little skin is torn as it is pulled loose.Freeze with Fingers–Needed: two ice cubes. Press the cubes together, one flat surface tightly against the other. They will freeze together. Here’s why: The increase in pressure lowers the melting point and some of the ice melts where they are in contact; then the water freezes again as the pressure is reduced.
Curtis received the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award for his book, Bud, Not Buddy. A later book, Elijah of Buxton, was named a Newbery Honor book, Coretta Scott King Medal, and Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award in 2008.
The Watsons Go To Birmingham--1963 was also given a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor.
Curtis won the 2009 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers' Literature, which honors a "nationally acclaimed author who has made a significant contribution to the field of literature and young adults.”
[Photograph of Christopher Paul Curtis]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/authphoto_330/6203_curtis_christopher_paul.jpg.
[Photograph of The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://wayspace.wayzata.k12.mn.us/blogs/smays/files/2009/03/watsons1.jpg.
[Photograph of Bud, Not Buddy]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://images.amazon.com/images/P/0440413281.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg.
[Photograph of Bucking the Sarge]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.audiobooksonline.com/media/Bucking_the_Sarge_Christopher_Paul_Curtis_unabridged_cassettes.jpg.
[Photograph of Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n38/n190732.jpg.
[Photograph of Mr. Chickee's Funny Money]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n35/n176012.jpg.
[Photograph of Elijah of Buxton]. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.orangecity.lib.ia.us/images/elijah/image.