Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

The Reading Quilt: Family Values

Nov 16, 2021 11:00AM ● By Dr. R.A. Slaughter
The Reading Quilt logo- text on top of a quilt pattern, with the book cover for "The Watsons go to Birmingham  - 1963"

Family is an integral part of African American culture, often celebrated in pop culture television shows and movies like “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Blackish,” and “Soul Food”.  These shows epitomize the strong African American mother who is eclipsed by the stronger African American grandmother, both flanked by supportive husbands, precocious children, and nosey aunts and uncles. The African American family, depicted in the media in a myriad of ways, is iconic.

We laugh at the silly sitcoms of the African American family on TV,  but do the media images hold some semblance of truth? We see the staunch, yet regal, hardworking mother who is the mouthpiece of the family, quick to throw her house shoe at her “smart mouth” kids. She is sassy on her own, but a force to be reckoned with when her sisters show up only to give lip service to the husband who gets the big piece of chicken at family dinner. These images of the African American family illustrate family values, the most prevalent being “family is everything.”  The importance of family and the values the entity brings has a long history. 

 Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym QUILT, Slaughter offers readers information about the Quality of writing, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise. 

Christopher Paul Curtis

(Christopher Paul Smith at 2018 National Book Festival, Image by Avery Jensen via Wikimedia Commons)

Paul was born to a podiatrist father and teacher mom in Flint, Michigan, on May 10, 1953. Paul is the oldest of five siblings. The author of a host of books, Paul featured Flint in several of his narratives. Paul’s book put Flint in the minds of many young readers, but the city, which is 66 miles northwest of Detroit, is now on our minds for other reasons. And, unfortunately, the Flint water crisis is just one of the many tragedies Flint residents have endured. Americans remember Flint as the “automobile manufacturing powerhouse” that fell to ruins in the 80’s, and the subsequent crime explosion that pushed the government officials to call a state of financial emergency in 2002. 

In the early seventies, at 19 years old,  Paul graduated from Flint Southwestern High School and enrolled in Flint University of Michigan founded in 1956. Hoping to fund his college education and secure his future, Paul landed a job at Fisher Body Plant No. 1 established in 1908. His hard work as a blue-collar factory worker did not overshadow his intellectual abilities. He spent a lot of time at the plant reading and writing on his breaks. Bud Caldwell of Bud, Not Buddy was born while Paul was on the factory line. Paul, who resides in Detroit, continues to write books for young readers. His book The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963 is a favorite choice in school libraries and bookstores across the country.

The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963


Quality - In his book, The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963 (Yearling, 1963), Paul introduces his readers to the Watson family. A classic tale of family values, the book won three prestigious awards including The John Newbery Medal given by the Association of Library Service to a book that is "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."  The novel also received the Golden Kite Award. More than 1,000 selections are submitted for review. Finally, the book received The Coretta Scott Award “given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values” 

Universal theme - The theme of family is poignant in this novel. The narrative resonates with families who love each other, but erupt in crazy arguments every other day, and show a bond that cannot be broken despite it being tested. 

Imaginative plot - The book opens with Byron Watson, a spitfire of a boy who often misuses his “smarts” in dumb ways. Freezing his lips to the mirror of the family’s new wheels is just one example. His younger brother Kenny is witness to the foolishness that Byron spins on a daily basis. But, one day Mr. and Mrs. Watson decide that Byron breaks the proverbial camel’s back and they vow to take his delinquent stupid-self to his petite, aging grandmother who lives in Flint, Michigan. It is during the family’s travels to Flint they find themselves in the midst of a historical tragedy: the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church burning.

Lesson plan - The Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church burning was the hateful act of white supremacists that killed four beautiful girls between the ages of eleven and fourteen. The book is the perfect sidekick to a lesson about hate crime. A lesson may center around the lives of the four girls: Who were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair? 

Talking points - The novel The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963 (Yearling, 1963) offers the human experience behind the violence that plagued 1963. Known as the “defining year of the civil rights movement,” the book includes historical elements that could spark a lively discussion.

  1. What is white supremacy? What was the message of white supremacy? Who were the key leaders who stood up against messages of hate?

  2. Why was the family’s car, “The Brown Bomber,” such an iconic image and an important one to include in the story?

  3. What are Watson's family values? And how do the family’s values mirror the civil rights movement?


(Photo credit: Chelsea Slaughter)

 Dr. R. A. Slaughter’s (Doc) textbooks Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature, and Turning the Page: A Guide to Securing Multicultural Literature for Schools, both published by Rowman & Littlefield and available in all bookstores, have brought Doc global recognition. For more information, log onto, or email  [email protected]

Read more from Dr. R.A. Slaughter:

The Reading Quilt Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

The Reading Quilt: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Each month, “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help stude... Read More » 


Add African American Dads to your Literacy Programs and Watch Magic Happen

Research shows that a boy who has a father as a reading role model during his early literacy years is more likely to develop the behaviors of a literate person. This fact creates a powerf... Read More » 

The Reading Quilt Bluish by Virginia Hamilton

The Reading Quilt: Bluish by Virginia Hamilton

Each month, “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help stude... Read More »