Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground - a review

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Harper Collins, 2017

Cool Papa Byrd was Clayton's grandfather, his best friend, his musical muse, and the coolest electric blues guitar player in Washington Square Park.  Without him, Clayton was a discordant jumble of sorrow and loneliness.

"Everyone saw Clayton leave the school with his mother.  Some had even laughed at him and teased him about the whipping he had coming.

Clayton wasn't worried about a whipping.  His mother wasn't the whipping kind.  She'd take away his treasures first, the things he loved, and the things he loved to do.  But she didn't believe in whipping.  She did, however, believe in scolding.

Clayton's mother scolded from the time they left the school to the time she drove home to the time they got in the house.  Even when she wasn't out-and-out scolding, she spoke in scolding tones, In you-know-betters, what's-gotten-into-yous.  She said over and over, 'Your grandfather's passing is no excuse for this behavior.'

Clayton remained silent through the scolding. He couldn't tell her what was wrong even if he wanted to. He didn't understand it all himself. Even if he could tell her, she would only blame Cool Papa, and Clayton was tired of her being angry at the person he loved the most. He said nothing.'
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is Clayton's journey through the blues.  Rita Williams-Garcia infuses this story of family grief, anger, and reconciliation with the bluesy notes of Clayton's harmonica, the smooth sounds of Cool Papa Byrd and his group, the Bluesmen, and a ragtag band of hip-hop street performers who ply their trade in New York's subway system.  No slow-starter here—Clayton Byrd Goes Underground grabs the reader from the pickup note.

I read this in one sitting.  Because of its brevity and musical connection, this would be a perfect middle-grade book for an in-school project collaboration between music and language arts teachers.  Queue some blues on your favorite music streaming service and get yourself in the mood for this award-winning book.

Awards for Clayton Byrd Goes Underground include:
National Book Award Finalist * Kirkus Best Books of 2017 * Horn Book Best Books of 2017 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017 * School Library Journal Best Books of 2017 * NAACP Image Awards Nominee * Chicago Public Library Best Books * A Boston Globe Best Book of 2017

Note: If you want to hear some awesome blues harp, listen to the Led Zeppelin version of "When the Levee Breaks." (originally recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie)

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