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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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  1. Teresa | Dec 06, 2017

    thanks for your comments!


    Daliylah, I hope you do write your own story. I would have liked more about the relationship between Clayton and his mother. Think the author might write a sequel?


    Anthony S.,  the loss of Cool Papa was very real to me. The author really made me feel like Clayton felt.

    Anthony M., I haven't read enough books to hazard a guess either about the Newbery yet. I certainly enjoy trying to pick the winner.


  2. Daliylah Turner | Dec 03, 2017

    I think the book is amazing and I got inspired to maybe write my own story. I like how it seems more realistic and relatable than "Patina." I love how the author added detail and how she made it seam so realistic.

    I think that the author could have spent more time developing the relationship between Clayton and his mom.

    Daliylah from Mr.T-V's classroom

  3. Anthony Sylvester | Dec 03, 2017

    I love the book "Clayton Byrd Goes Underground" because it relates to real life. A lot of young people have lost someone in their life and didn't know what was going on. My favorite quote is when Clayton's teacher asks to see him after class. The author writes, "Clayton, see me after class. The room echoed with "Oohs." This is my favorite because in real life people in class do the same thing.

    -Anthony S., Mr. Throop-Voors' fourth grade

  4. Anthony Martin | Dec 03, 2017

    We thought it was a good book. We felt like the book is really realistic because that is something that happens to us because we all felt or will feel the pain of the loss in the future. And Clayton's mom is trying to protect her son from what Cool Papa did to her. Cool Papa kept on coming back for a short time and leaving for a long time because of the blues. So she didn't want that to happen to Clayton. 

    We really think this is better than "Patina" and we think it should win the Newbery medal, but we're not sure because we haven't read all the other books.

    - Anthony M., Mr. Throop-Voors' 4th grade class

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