When fourth grade students return to class next week, a shiny new book, The Watson Go to Birmingham, will greet them. The novel will take students on a journey with a family heading to Birmingham during a time where tumultuous events surrounding civil rights unfurled in the Deep South.
On Friday, at 11 a.m., Birmingham City Schools' reading coaches will help kick off the school district's 2013 fall reading program by picking up the books at the school district's headquarters in downtown Birmingham. School officials say the purpose of fall reading program is to engage fourth grade students through reading as the City recognizes the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. The students will receive the books on August 26th.
Officials say the reading program, known as Read It Forward aims to spread the joy of reading and the history of Birmingham.
The book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, was written in 1995 and tells the story of a loving African-American family, living in the town of Flint, Michigan in 1963. When the oldest son begins to get into a bit of trouble, the parents decide he should spend some time with his strict grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. The entire family travels to Birmingham by car, during their visit, tragic events take place that affect them collectively.
Please view the media release below to learn more information about this initiative and how citizen can also receive a free copy of the book.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Birmingham City Schools, the Birmingham Public Library and the City of Birmingham are partnering in a fall reading program designed to engage fourth grade students in the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. The city has several events planned during September 11-15, known as Empowerment Week, to mark this year's 50th anniversary. The reading program, known as Read It Forward, will give students a piece of "ownership'' in Empowerment Week but also spread the joy of reading and the history of Birmingham.
During the week of Aug. 26, Birmingham City Schools will give "The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963,'' a fictional book by Christopher Paul Curtis, to all of its fourth grade students. Once students have finished reading the book, fourth graders will share some of the books with classmates and classes in selected cities.
Since hearing about the initiative, some Birmingham principals are working to provide the book for their third and fifth graders, too. Teachers are exploring ways to share some of the book's lessons through art, vocabulary, history and more.
Elvirita Finley, principal at Martha Gaskins Elementary School in Roebuck, said that by reading the book, which examines the civil rights movement and the 1963 bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, students will be able to touch the past so that they can be prepared for the future. Her teachers are planning drama skits, art projects and other exercises in teaching the book.
"I was not old enough to march and be a part of the movement, but I can be a part of this and I'm excited about that,'' she said. "My teachers are excited about it, too.''
Teachers at Martha Gaskins plan to not only pass that excitement on to students but also to parents. On Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m., teachers at Martha Gaskins will host a workshop to inform parents about the reading program and Empowerment Week.
"The Read It Forward effort embodies Mayor William A. Bell Sr.'s vision of continuing the conversation within every space, with every opportunity and with people of all ages, races and cultures. Our thanks to every student who will continue to tell the story of 50 Years Forward by reading it forward,'' said Erskine "Chuck" Faush, chief of staff to the mayor.
Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said that the reading program will enhance students' reading skills and give students a history about the civil rights movement. "This is an opportunity for the public library, the school system and the city of Birmingham to work together, share a bit of history, share some culture and share the joy of reading,'' he said.
In past years, the Birmingham Public Library has offered its Read It Forward program and encouraged people in the community to pick up a selected book from one of its 18 locations, read the book and share the book by "forwarding'' it to a relative, co-worker or even a stranger. People have also taken the book on their travels and left it in a restaurant, airport or store. This year's selected book is "The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963.'' In September, the community can pick up a free copy from any BPL location, read it and pass it to someone else. ID numbers are at the back of the books so that people can keep track of their book's travels.
A library supporter, avid reader and product of Birmingham schools, comedian and Hollywood actor Roy Wood Jr. is taking the book with him while on a national tour with the Sullivan and Son Comedy Tour this month. He later plans to create a video for students. "I wanted to take the book with me to show students that reading can happen any place, at any moment,'' Wood said. "At any moment, you can sit down and escape, even if it's for a couple of pages.''
The Birmingham Public Library will share some of its books with Birmingham's Sister Cities in Israel and the Ukraine, said Renee Blalock, library director.
"We did the program in the spring as part of the library's 50 Years Forward commemoration. It was such a success and we are thrilled at the opportunity to do it with the city,'' Blalock said. The book "helps people understand what it would have been like to have been a child in Birmingham in 1963. It's been a very popular book,'' she said.
BPL launched "Read It Forward'' in May 2005, modeling it after a successful teen reading program used by the Las Vegas-Clark County Public Library in Nevada. Due to its Birmingham success and highlighting different books, the program has continued, said Janine Langston, literacy outreach and youth services coordinator for the library.
Several other Birmingham organizations are also making the book a centerpiece of programming this fall.
From Oct. 7 -18, the Birmingham Children's Theatre will present a play based on the book. Several shows at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex will be available for classes. Glen Iris Elementary School Principal Michael Wilson said his fourth and fifth grade students will be reading the book in the fall and he's already booked dates to take his students to see the play.
"It's history, it's social studies, it's reading… there's learning,'' Wilson said. "But more importantly, there's the fact that our children are where they are now because of what happened and that's a huge thing that they need to know.''
"The book is a high-interest book in the first place and it teaches some very valuable lessons.''
The Junior League of Birmingham is partnering with the Birmingham Public Library to present its "From Page to Stage'' theatre workshops for children at selected library locations on Sept. 21, 22, 28 and 29. Students who attend the one-hour workshop will receive two free tickets to see the play on Oct. 6 or 13.
Jack Lemon, BCT executive director, said they have already sold 9,000 tickets for the play, which will likely be one of their highest fall productions in the last six years. "We have been excited by the enormous interest in this production and we think it is an important piece to be seen by as many children in greater Birmingham as possible,'' he said.
The book has also been made into a television movie, which will premiere in Birmingham during Empowerment Week on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Alabama Theatre. It will also be shown on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, Sept. 20.
"We know that by going to Children's Theatre, by seeing the movie, reading the book and working with each other, this is going to be a great opportunity for (students) to bring history alive,'' said Rosalyn Childress, director of elementary schools for Birmingham City Schools.
Book synopsis: The book, written in 1995, tells the story of a loving African-American family, living in the town of Flint, Michigan in 1963. When the oldest son begins to get into a bit of trouble, the parents decide he should spend some time with his strict grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. The entire family travels to Birmingham by car, which is known as the Brown Bomber. During their visit, tragic events take place that affect them collectively.
Brief description of the Read It Forward project: The community-wide program is designed to encourage children to read. The concept is based on the Catherine Ryan Hyde book "Pay It Forward,'' a story about an eighth grader who decides to change the world by doing a good deed for someone and then asks that person to "pay it forward'' by doing the same for others. For more information, go to www.bplonline.org.
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