This is the 2008 winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2007. Birmingham, 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Here is a Digital Trailer for BIRMINGHAM, 1963 created by graduate student Jennifer C. Smith.
Here is another Digital Trailer for BIRMINGHAM, 1963. This one is created by graduate student Abby N. Hancock.
Here is a Readers Guide for BIRMINGHAM, 1963 created by graduate student Genie Myers.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2007. Birmingham, 1963. Honesdale, Pa: Wordsong. ISBN 9781590784402.
Recommended age levels
The topic of the book is tragic and gruesome; therefore, I recommend it for ages 12 and up.
Children's Literature Comprehensive Database shows the book to have the following data; Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Middle Grade
Book Level 4.4
Accelerated Reader Points 0.5
Interest Level 3-5
Reading Level 3
Summary of book
A girl living in Birmingham, Alabama poetically tells about the year she turned ten and the death of her sister. She describes typical events common to white and black skinned children as well as describing her participation in the Civil Rights protests. Weatherford writes, "police loosed snarling dogs and fire hoses on us..." Then she writes, "yanked my pigtails like always, poking out his tongue when I tattled." Actual black and white photographs from this city during this time period accompany the story. While at church on her tenth birthday, she witnesses the explosion of a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan. Then her story is followed by four poems. There is one poem for each of the girls who died that day including one for her sister. Although the narrator is a fictional sister of one of the victims, the photographs of the victims and details of the event are factual. Also, the poetry is followed with author's notes and notes on the photographs.
The black characters are all portrayed as well mannered and hopeful for a brighter future. For example, they chant, "We Shall Overcome." The only other characters in the story are the Ku Klux Klan, police and fireman. The photos are real and the words are without judgment. For example, the police warned, "keep your children inside." Then the birthday girls prays that God will give her sister and her three friends that died angel wings. This is a moving memorial to the people injured and killed that day as well as a teen friendly introduction to the Civil Rights Movement. Many pages have odd red shapes added to the page; I am uncertain the intent of the shapes. However, they do bring unity to the text and photos of objects and people.
Together, the words and pictures show the horrific racism, the sit-ins and marches, and the church’s role. - Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Sep. 15, 2007 (Vol. 104, No. 2))
Full-page black and white photographs from the time face the off-white text pages with their few lines of type plus gray photographic vignettes of objects related to the text, like fancy socks and gloves, or the coins for the collection plate. - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature)
Jane Addams Children's Book Award, 2008 Honor Book Books for Older Children United States
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, 2008 Winner United States
Questions to ask before reading this book:
●Would anyone like to share about a loved one who has died? How did you know them, and what did you like about them?
●What do you like to do to express your sad feelings? Have you ever written poetry or journals to express sad feelings? If so, can you share whether or not it helped you and how.
●Can you explain the Civil Rights Movement? What are civil rights? Who wasn't receiving these rights in 1963?
Suggestions for reading aloud
●Read this aloud when there is time to have follow-up questions and discussion rather than a time filler when you have a few spare minutes with a class.
●Read this with the emphasis on how much progress has been made and how children played an important part in the movement.
Follow up activities
Write about a time when you had to stand up for something you believed. If you can't think of anything, then ask your parents about a time they had to stand up for something they believed, and write about their story. Write a poem in memory of someone you love that has passed away.
Students could make their own similar books. They can take 5 photos or draw 5 pictures to illustrate an event in their life and accompany it with free verse poetry. For example, a Sunday in my childhood or a Friday night in my household could be titles. At least three lines of text to go with each picture.
Show the students how one drop of black ink can spread darkness to an entire tank of clean water. Talk about how hatred can spread easily. Then give each child a votive candle with a paper cup or doily around it to catch the wax. The teacher can light a candle and pass the flame to a child's candle. Each student lights another child's candle until the light has spread throughout the room. Now you can discuss how much better to spread joy and happiness than hatred.
Related web sites/blogs
This is the author's website with pictures and descriptions of her other books. This is a great place for students to look for more books by her to read. Also, it has lesson ideas, her appearance schedule and contact information for teachers.
●discovery education - Civil Rights Movement
This is a complete lesson for the middle grades complete with standards, objectives, extensions, evaluations, vocabulary and much more. Everything you need to make this lesson a success is at your fingertips. I find the site to be the perfect history lesson on the Civil Rights Movement and a great introduction precursor to Birmingham, 1963.
This is an excellent site for ideas and interesting facts to go along with history lessons. Topics are listed all along the left and right sides of the screen. If you go to the civil rights tab on the left, you will find several other civil rights stories. I particularly enjoyed the one on the Zoot Suit Riots. Click on the Zoot Suit Riots story, you will find an article which relates to young people today wearing their pants low and the Zoot suiters of the 1940's. I like the way this history teacher tied in a clothing civil rights issue from the present and past.
Related books / documentary
●Related Nonfiction- Hate crimes against a male African American - A 14 year old boy is lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The book is written in his memory with poetry and paintings.
Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
●Related Fiction - Civil Rights Movement - "The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963."
Curtis, Christopher P. The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963. New York: Delacorte Press, 1995.
●Related Poetry - This is poetry written from the perspective of an eleven year old dealing with the loss of his parents, separation from his sibling, foster care and school. It is another example of students using poetry to deal with their feelings.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2003.
●There is also a documentary by Spike Lee called Four Little Girls, but I haven't seen it.