Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2006. BIRMINGHAM, 1963. Honesdale: Wordsong. ISBN 9781590784402.
Birmingham, 1963 is a book of free verse prose that tells the tragic story of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the subsequent death of four little girls. Told from the perspective of a fictional ten-year-old African American girl, the book juxtaposes typical childhood images with black and white photos of the heartbreaking event. Carole Boston Weatherford includes a memoriam to each of the girls killed, and gives more details of the event and the prolonged road to justice for the instigators.
Carole Boston Weatherford weaves the themes of family, faith, and the Civil Rights struggle throughout this simple book depicting the saddest day in Birmingham’s history. Written from the vantage point of a fictional African American girl, the book begins with “The year I turned ten…” and describe the girl’s participation and observation of the Children’s March, Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, leading up to a fateful Sunday. That stanza starts with “The day I turned ten” and depicts special moments in an exciting birthday: “But Mama allowed me my first sip of coffee / And Daddy twirled me around the kitchen / In my patent-leather cha-cha heels.”
The routine beginnings to a significant day in no way prepare the reader for the horror to come when “Someone tucked a bundle of dynamite / Under the church steps, / then lit the fuse of hate.” Weatherford’s use of prose and illustrations move from excitement of a girl’s participation in historic events, to graphic images of the brutality that would forever change the lives of all involved. The words evoke imagery first of hope “While King’s dream woke the nation from a long night of wrongs” then terror “Seconds later, a blast rocked the church. / Smoke clogged my throat, stung my eyes / As I crawled past crumbled plaster, broken glass, / Shredded Bibles and wrecked chairs.”
Historic black and white photos of Civil Rights events provoke feelings of fear, anger and humiliation. At the same time, the images displayed alongside the text are symbols of any little girl growing up in the 1960s: frilly socks, 45 records, and Barbie clothes. The contrast of these illustrations, shown across the page from each other on each spread, depict good versus evil as the tragic events unfold.
Weatherford ends the book with tributes to the four little girls who died in the church bombing: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson. In the final page of the poem, Weatherford writes that Robertson was a girl, “who thought she might want to teach history someday / or at least make her mark on it.” But certainly not in the agonizing way she did.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review: “An emotional read, made even more accessible and powerful by the viewpoint of the child narrator.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS starred review: “It’s a gorgeous memorial to the four killed on that horrible day, and to the thousands of children who braved violence to help change the world.”
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor Award, 2008
Jefferson Cup Award, 2008
- Share this book with students as a poetry pairing with The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.
- Social Studies Connection – Research the different Civil Rights events mentioned in the book: the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombings in Birmingham; Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech; the Children’s March, and Rosa Parks.
- Explore picture books that deal with Civil Rights including Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford.
- Read the book Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge as an example of ways children were involved in the Civil Rights movement. Discuss ways that children can make their voices heard in issues in their community.
Image from Barnes & Noble