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Mock Newbery 2018 -- Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

by Teresa Walls | Nov 29, 2017
book cover Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
HarperCollins, 2017
166 pages

Clayton Byrd thinks he's ready to play a solo, a blues harp (harmonica) solo during a set with his grandpa, Cool Papa Byrd; Cool Papa's guitar, Wah Wah Nita; and the rest of the Bluesmen.

      Cool Papa disagreed. "No, son," he said with a smile in his eyes. "Not yet."  
      Big Mike said, "You gotta bend that note like you bend the truth."
      Hector Santos said, "Like you bend backward, especially when you don't want to."
      "Yeah, man," Jack Rabbit Jones said. "Gotta get that round-the-corner, back-to-tell-the-tale blues bend."
      "Got to feel it deep down. In the gut," Papa Byrd said. He patted himself somewhere between his heart and belly. "That's when you know you're crying."
      "Just before you laugh," one said.
      "Sometimes after," another said.
      "But son," Cool Papa said, "a bluesman ain't a bluesman without that deep-down cry."
                                                                                                                                                  (p. 9-10)

Clayton doesn't understand, but he dearly loves Cool Papa. Clayton and Cool Papa often sneak out when Clayton's mother is working a double-shift. They sneak away to meet up with the Bluesmen and play to the crowds who love that music called the blues. Clayton's mother, Juanita, does not love the blues. In Clayton's eyes, she also does not love Cool Papa Byrd, her father whom she feels left her and her mother too many times to go on tour.

Williams-Garcia descriptions of music, both blues and hip-hop, are wonderfully clear. The complexity of this family's relationships is well-drawn. Clayton's interactions with his grandfather, his mother, and his father are realistic, sometimes painful.

I can't wait to talk about this book at our Mock Newbery discussion which will be held on February 3rd, 2018, at the Main Library in downtown Fort Wayne, IN. Or add your comments below!  We'd love to know what YOU thought of this title.

Each week, beginning the first week of November 2017 through the last week of January 2018, we will be discussing one (or more) of the titles on our 2018 Mock Newbery list. (The complete list of titles we'll be discussing can be found here.)

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