Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia -- moving story of love, grief and finding your way (ages 9-12)

Clayton Byrd loves his grandpa Cool Papa Byrd mightily and fiercely. Blues music ties them together, and their love runs deep and true. When Cool Papa dies suddenly in his sleep, young Clayton must grapple with his loss and find his own way. Rita Williams-Garcia's new novel will touch readers deeply, as they connect with Clayton and journey with him.

This week, I'd like to celebrate Clayton Byrd Goes Underground in a few different ways. Today, I'll share my review. Later this week, I'll add videos that will help build Clayton's world for students, share a student's comments, and then finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad / HarperCollins, 2017
book trailer with Rita Williams-Garcia
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Right from the first page, Rita Williams-Garcia weaves the power of blues through each fiber of her story, writing with the same "rhythm and slow-burning funk cooked into the blues" that she describes. She riffs on the lyrics of blues, but keeps it focused on young Clayton's story. This passage from the first chapter shows how she weaves in the feel of the blues, with repetition and patterns. But it also shows how she keeps the focus on developing Clayton's character and feelings.
"Instead of drowning out Clayton's plea with Wah-Wah Nita's full-bodied cry, Cool Papa answered back as only Cool Papa would. Cool. Clear. But sharp.
Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Then louder. I SAID, Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Softer--Not yet, Little Man, not yet.

Even thought Cool Papa and Wah-Wah Nita had answered, that didn't stop Clayton Byrd from hoping, and waiting... His lungs and soul were ready to pour out his own story through the ten square holes of his blues harp. He just needed Cool Papa Byrd to wave him in for a solo." (pp. 3-4)
When Cool Papa suddenly dies in his sleep, Clayton must cope with his grief all alone. Clayton's mother is consumed with anger toward her father, still resentful that he left her as a young girl for months at a time to follow his music.  When his mother sells all of Papa Byrd's records and guitars, Clayton feels betrayed, angry beyond words and completely alone. And so he sets off in search of the Bluesmen -- going underground on the New York subway to find them in Washington Square Park where they played with Cool Papa.

Clayton runs straight into trouble when a pack of boys recruits him to help them make money, playing his blues harp as they danced and beatboxed on the subway. Their hip-hop beat is infectious, and will resonate with many young readers who love the vibrations, clicks and thumping of beatboxing.

This novel finds its groove as Clayton struggles with doing the right thing, stepping out on his own, but getting right into trouble. Many of my students who loved Jason Reynold's Ghost will find much to love here, with nuanced family relationships, well-paced plot and descriptive, dynamic writing.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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