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Birmingham, 1963

Ages: 9-12
Pages: 40
List Price: $17.95
Cover: Hardcover
Published: 9/1/2007
ISBN: 1-59078-440-5
ISBN-13: 978-1-59078-440-2
In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Civil rights demonstrators were met with police dogs and water cannons. The eyes of the world were on Birmingham, a flashpoint for the civil rights movement. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan planted nineteen sticks of dynamite under the back steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which served as a meeting place for civil rights organizers. The explosion claimed the lives of four little girls. Their murders shocked the nation and turned the tide in the struggle for equality. Here is a book that captures the heartbreak of that tragic day, as seen through the eyes of a fictional witness to the bombing. Pairing archival photographs with poignant text written in free verse, Carole Boston Weatherford offers a powerful tribute to the young victims.


  • Winner of the 2008 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
  • Winner of the 2008 Jefferson Cup Award
  • Jane Addams Children's Book Award, Books for Older Readers Honor Book
  • Selected for inclusion on Kirkus Reviews' Editor's Choice 2007 list
  • Featured in MOSAIC 2007, an annual multicultural literature exhibit hosted by Lincoln (NE) Public Schools Library Media Services. The exhibit featured the best and most current multicultural titles from 2006-2007.
  • Included in the 2008 edition of The Best Children’s Books of the Year, an annotated bibliography from the Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College of Education in New York City.
  • Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry Honor Book
  • Best Children's Books of 2008 —Christian Science Monitor


Starred review "Exquisitely understated design lends visual potency to a searing poetic evocation of the Birmingham church bombing of 1963. ...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."
     —Kirkus Reviews

Starred review "Teachers who use Christopher Paul Curtis's, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 (Delacorte Press, 1995) can use this book at the beginning of the unit to provide historical background or at the conclusion as a summary of events. Each page is filled with emotion as the reader shares with the narrator the horrors of hatred. This is a testament to the four young girls whose deaths brought about positive changes to a city that was racially divided. This is a reminder of a time when ordinary people became involved in extraordinary situations in the cause of freedom. This is a book that should be in every library collection."
     —Library Media Connection

Starred review "In understated free verse, an unnamed, fictional girl narrates the events that preceded the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. She relates how she marched with other children to protest white-only lunch counters, went to the Lincoln Memorial to hear King’s “I Have a Dream" speech, and was present at the church when “Someone tucked a bundle of dynamite/Under the church steps, then lit the fuse of hate." The format of the book is small, and it makes the reading experience of an enormously tragic event an intimate experience. The poetic text appears on light-gray pages with photos of childhood objects, like shoes, barrettes, or birthday candles. The fateful Sunday is the narrator’s birthday; she states, “The day I turned ten,/There was no birthday cake with candles;/Just cinders, ash, and a wish I were still nine." Opposite are full-page archival black-and-white photographs (which are cited in the back matter). The color palette is white, gray, and black, with enigmatic red design elements that appear on the pages of print. The book includes a section called “in memoriam" in which the four young girls who died in the bombing are profiled. The author’s note provides additional historical background, and the end matter includes a list of photo citations. An emotional read, made even more accessible and powerful by the viewpoint of the child narrator.      —School Library Journal's Extra Helping

Starred review "An emotional read...intimate and powerful."
     —School Library Journal

"On each double-page spread, a few lines of spare poetry (“Someone tucked a bundle of dynamite / Under the church steps, then lit the fuse of hate") are placed opposite a stirring, unframed archival photograph. Together, the words and pictures show the horrific racism, the sit-ins and marches, and the church’s role. Finally, a brief personal profile of each of the four girls who died appears on a separate spread, accompanied by a photo of the child. A long note fills in the history, with references for further reading. There is no exploitation of the violence. The quiet yet arresting book design will inspire readers, who may want to go on to Christopher Paul Curtis’ novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (1995) and to histories about the role of children in the civil rights struggle."

"Archival photographs on each two-page spread provide haunting and disturbing visual imagery (e.g., firehoses on marchers, a hooded Klansman, the heavily damaged church, four smiling faces in school photographs). Extensive notes at the volume’s end elaborate on historical details referenced in the poem and photographs of this compelling work."
     —CCBC Choices (University of Wisconsin)

"Weatherford has taken a compelling and touching look at a tragedy that took 39 years to solve."
     —Multicultural Review

"The 2008 award winner, Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford (Wordsong, 39 pp., $19.95), relies on a picture-book format to examine a notorious day in civil rights history. Paired with archival photographs, her spare text begins with the voice of a fictional narrator, who chronicles the historymaking events of the year she turned 10. The book may open with marches on whites-only lunch counters, but it's the innocence of Weatherford's details – a first sip of coffee, patent leather cha-cha heels – that sets the stage for the protagonist's (and the reader's) eventual horror."
     —Christian Science Monitor