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Clayton Byrd Goes Underground Hardcover – May 9, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Clayton Byrd has some complicated relationships in his family. His strict, demanding mother refuses to marry his father, but allows him to be a presence in Clayton's life. Clayton adores his grandfather, "Cool Papa," though his mother does not. Cool Papa nurtures Clayton in many ways—cooking his favorite foods, reading to him each night, and teaching him the harmonica and the blues. He's allowed to tag along with Cool Papa when he and his band, the Bluesmen, busk in Washington Square Park. When Cool Papa dies unexpectedly, in a scene that is understated and heartbreaking, Clayton is devastated. His mother not only sends Clayton back to school too soon but sells or gives away all of Cool Papa's belongings, some of which were promised to Clayton. School becomes complicated when Clayton is assigned to read the very book that Cool Papa read to him every night. Clayton's plea for another book is ignored. When his frustration and grief become overwhelming, he cuts school and takes the subway, intent on finding and joining the Bluesmen. Williams-Garcia packs a lot of story in this slim book. Clayton's an appealing character, and his anger and loss are palpable. The neighborhood scenes are so vivid, one does not need to be a denizen of New York City to appreciate them. VERDICT This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart. A first purchase.—Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ
★ “Clayton’s love of his grandfather and his music is wonderfully drawn, as is his grief when he loses them.... Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
★ “With the precision of a surgeon, Williams-Garcia lifts and examines layers of Clayton’s hurt and anger: the loss, but also the inability of his dismissive mother to understand... The book’s through line, though, is the music, and Garcia-Williams skillfully finds melody in words.” (Booklist (starred review))
★ “This slim novel strikes a strong chord... [A] holistic portrait of a family in pain, a realistic portrait of grief and reconciliation, and a reminder that sadness and loss are wrapped up in the blues.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
★ “An appealing, realistic story with frequent elegant turns of phrase. The third-person voice helps to keep Clayton’s story from becoming self-absorbed, as he learns to navigate the literal and figurative underworld and then find his way back to the everyday world of family, friends, and school.” (Horn Book (starred review))
★ “Williams-Garcia packs a lot of story in this slim book... This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.” (School Library Journal (starred review))
“Like a classic blues riff, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is deceptively simple yet profoundly deep. It wails, rattles, and roars in unexpectedly heartfelt and joyous ways.” (G. Neri, Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author of Yummy and Tru & Nelle)
“Set to the low-down howl of the blues and cool thump of hip-hop, this story is so full of heart and soul it boogies right off the page. Read it right now!” (Daniel José Older, author of Shapeshifter)
“Williams-Garcia writes with keen sympathy about a boy who lost the key adult figure in his life and his rage at his mother’s making the loss worse.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
“In Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, three-time Coretta Scott King Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia has crafted an endearing family drama with all the wit, wisdom and resonance of the best blues songs.” (BookPage)
“Fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander will find comfort in the portrayal of Clayton and his struggle to become a young man...Williams-Garcia shows us once again that the only answer is to lean into [our] burdens, name them, and bend them into our own score.” (Meg Medina, writing in the New York Times Book Review)
Top customer reviews
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This book is simply incredible. Williams-Garcia writes with an ease that welcomes readers deep into the story. She manages in well under 200 pages to tell a deep and rich story that resonates. It’s a story of the power of music to connect generations, of grandfathers who teach and lead, of subways and busking, of urban landscapes and neighborhoods. It’s a story of loss and grief, of self discovery too. It is a multilayered book that will inspire discussion and connection.
Clayton is a wonderful main character with his grandfather’s porkpie hat on his head and his harmonica in his pocket or in his hands making music. He is clearly a gifted musician and it is a treat to have a young character playing music like the blues and then mixing it with hip hop. Clayton is an individual and proud of it, yet he loses one of his main anchors in life and has to find a way forward once again.
Deep and resonating, this novel is a demonstration of real skill and the power of books and music. Appropriate for ages 9-12.