The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14 & 15


Chapter 14

Kenny wakes up on a Sunday to hear Joey, who is wearing a fluffy white skirt and blouse, getting ready for Sunday school. He tells her she looks very pretty. Kenny says he is not going to Sunday school because he slept too late; this statement is not exactly true, because his encounter with the Wool Pooh has actually drained his energy. Byron made Kenny promise not to tell anyone about his near-death experience, so everyone just thinks Kenny is lazy.

Kenny begins to fall asleep again, but as he is drifting off he hears a sound like one giant thunderclap. The entire house shakes. There is silence for a moment, and then everyone in the neighborhood comes outside and looks at the sky. But there is no cloud, no storm. Daniel runs outside, convinced that Byron did something, but Byron was asleep. Daniel attributes the sound to a sonic boom, but then Wilona screams. It is revealed that someone has bombed the church that Joey was visiting for Sunday school.

Wilona, Daniel, and Byron run for the church; dazed, Kenny follows along behind. The front of the church has been reduced to a pile of rubble, and Kenny can see his family yelling for Joetta. Kenny spots a shiny black shoe just like Joey's under the rubble and tries to pull it, but then realizes it is attached to a person. There is someone else holding on to the shoe, too. Kenny recognizes the Wool Pooh, with big square shoulders and nothing where his face should be.

Kenny takes the shoe himself -- it comes off of a frilly white sock -- and slowly walks away, hoping that the Wool Pooh will not come after him, too. He walks past crying and injured people, and continues on briskly back towards Grandma Sands's house. Once he is sitting on his bed, he takes out the little girl's shoe and notices that it is ripped, supposedly from the Wool Pooh tugging on it, too. He tries to remember if he was mean to Joey that morning.

Then, suddenly, Joey appears in the doorway, asking how Kenny got back to the house so fast and why he has changed his clothes. Kenny assumes that the Wool Pooh is taking her around for her final visits. He is afraid to look at her. Joey asks why he has a shoe; Kenny tells her it is hers, and that he took it from the Wool Pooh. Joey has no idea what he is talking about, and accuses him of trying to scare her. Kenny tells Joey he loves her and finally looks up at her; she has both of her shiny black shoes, and the Wool Pooh is not there at all. Kenny realizes that Joey is really there, alive. She has no idea what has happened.

Kenny asks Joey why she did not go to Sunday school. She says she did, but it was so hot that she went out and stood on the porch, and then saw Kenny waving at her from across the street. She says when she tried to come for Kenny he laughed and ran away, so she followed him all the way back. She notes that he had on different clothes. Kenny has absolutely no idea what she is talking about; Joey yells at Kenny for trying to scare her and for not telling her where Wilona is. She finds Grandma Sands, who has just woken up. Grandma Sands asks the children where their parents are and why they are making such a racket. Kenny realizes that the Wool Pooh really did miss Joey, and immediately runs back to the church to find his family and tell them that Joey is alive.

Chapter 15

At the beginning of this chapter, the Watsons have already been back in Flint for several weeks. Kenny's parents still talk about what happened in Birmingham, but never around the kids. Grandma Sands had told them that the police were pretty sure that two white men drove by in a car and threw the bomb during church services; either that or they had already placed it inside. The bomb had killed four little girls in the church and sent many more to the hospital. They all decided that they would not tell Joey what really happened, but Kenny can tell that his parents are most worried about him. They do not know that he went to the church after them and saw what he saw; they think he only left Grandma Sands's to tell them that Joey was okay.

Daniel and Wilona are convinced that Kenny has been disappearing to somewhere every day; really, he has just formed a habit of going behind the couch for a few hours. Byron calls this area the World-Famous Watson Pet Hospital, and he made Kenny and Joey believe that it has magic powers. He devised the name after noticing that if something bad happened to one of their pets, the animal would crawl behind the couch and wait to get better. After the pet went behind the couch, Kenny would check on the pet the following morning to see if it were still there or if the magic powers had decided not to keep the animal alive. (In the second case, the Watson parents would remove the animal before the children woke up.)

Kenny goes behind the couch to see if the magic powers can make him better, too. This process is taking a very long time, though. Kenny has been refusing to go outside and play with Rufus; his mother is trying to force him to do that, along with other things like play basketball with Byron or hang out with Joey. One day, Byron finally figures out where Kenny has been hiding; even though Byron is not usually a snitch, Kenny gets the feeling that Byron told his parents what is going on. Byron starts spending a lot of time sitting on the couch, keeping Kenny company.

Byron tries to distract Kenny and brings him to the bathroom to see the chin hairs that he is beginning to grow. Kenny starts to cry, though, and Byron lets him. Kenny asks why someone would hurt little kids like that. Byron says he just thinks that people like that let hate eat them up and turn them into monsters. Kenny admits that he did go to the church and see what happened. He is ashamed of himself because when he thought the Wool Pooh had Joey he left her instead of fighting for her, like Byron fought the Wool Pooh to save Kenny from drowning. Byron claims that the Wool Pooh does not exist, but Kenny knows better.

Byron tells Kenny that there are no magic powers behind the couch that will make him feel better. He asks how Kenny could believe in magic powers but not believe that some part of him led Joey away from the church that day. Kenny says that it is just not fair to the other kids who got left behind in the church that no one was there to save them. Byron says things are not ever going to be fair. He tells Kenny it is time to snap out of it and face the world, because he is going to be all right. Byron leaves the room, and Kenny overhears him telling their mother that Kenny is going to be fine.

Kenny acknowledges that it is sometimes hard to figure Byron out. He still believes that the Wool Pooh is real, and that magic powers exist, too; they are in the little ways your family loves you and takes care of you, rather than behind the couch. When he thinks about his family, he decides that he feels better and is ready to leave the couch. Then, when Joey knocks on the bathroom door, he tells her to come in -- he is going to be fine.


Chapter 14 is the climax of the novel; the event that all previous events have been leading up to takes place here. Everything that happens after this point is the falling action. In this book, the falling action moves quickly, and the resolution -- Kenny realizing that he is going to be okay -- is reached within a single chapter.

The issue of racial prejudice is suddenly at the forefront of the story, as the Birmingham church is bombed by white men who hate the black churchgoers simply because of the color of their skin. This event is historical; in 1963, a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama really was bombed by four members of the Ku Klux Klan, and four little girls really were killed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself described this act of violence as "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity."

This is a heavy event to include in a book targeted at middle-grade children. It is important to recognize, though, that this story is told from the point of view of a ten-year-old child who lives through this chaos and is deeply affected by it. The purpose of including a horrific event in a book for relatively young readers is to teach a very important lesson about hatred and prejudice. This kind of deep hate is not rooted in humanity; it is learned as a result of society and its worst practices. In a society as divided and prejudiced as the United States was during the Civil Rights Era, there was no doubt that such hatred was going to arise. This church bombing serves as a chilling example of how destructive this hatred was: so many innocent people were hurt or killed because of it.

In many ways, Kenny loses his innocence as a result of this experience. He will never be able to un-see what he saw at the church, and he has learned a lot about the type of hatred that exists in the world and the way it can completely change people. He realizes how precious life is, but also how fragile. At first he is not okay with his new awareness, and attempts to gain some of his childlike innocence back by hiding behind the couch and letting the "magic powers" he believed in when he was younger bring him back to his former state. In the end, though, he accepts that he is different now, and decides that that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Kenny is not the only one who grows up as a result of this event. Even though the Watsons clearly decided not to leave Byron in Birmingham with Grandma Sands, it is clear that the trip to the South accomplished exactly what it was intended to do: change Byron's ways. Byron has now seen first-hand the type of hatred that exists in the world; it has humbled him, matured him, and made him realize that there are things far more important than joking and acting out. Byron is the only one who can successfully make Kenny feel better after returning to Flint. The talking-to he gives his younger brother in the bathroom at is a sign of his new-found maturity. To further prove that he is growing up, he has even started growing a beard.

The family makes the decision to let Joey retain her innocence, and thus she does not learn what happened at the church. It would be unfair to rob her of her childhood at such a young age; she has plenty of time to learn about the evils in the world, but for now she deserves to live carefree and happy, much the way Byron and Kenny did when they were younger.

In some ways, though, it seems that Kenny still has not grown up. He refuses to believe Byron when Byron tells him that the Wool Pooh is not real. This, however, does not mean he is letting his imagination run away with him. The Wool Pooh symbolizes death for Kenny, and believing in the Wool Pooh's existence is Kenny's way of acknowledging that death is real, that no person is invincible: it is important to be extremely careful wherever you can and appreciate the life you have.

Kenny also says that he believes magic is real; however, the real magic is in the small acts of love that happen within his family. Before, Kenny took his family for granted; he did not realize how important the other Watsons were to him and how lucky he was to have them. After nearly losing Joey, Kenny has gained a new perspective. If there is a silver lining to the terrible church bombing, it is that this sad event helped bring the Weird Watsons closer together. This is, after all, a story meant to emphasize the importance of family -- and, as Kenny acknowledges, family is where the real magic happens.