September 21, 2017

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Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia | SLJ Review

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redstarWILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. 176p. HarperCollins/ Amistad. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062215918.

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

This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2017 issue.

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