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Clayton Byrd goes underground
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Feeling most alive when he plays music with his grandfather, aspiring bluesman Clayton Byrd is devastated when his grandfather passes away and his mother forbids him from playing the blues, losses that compel him to run away in the hope of joining other bluesmen on the road. By the Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of One Crazy Summer. Simultaneous eBook. 50,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

Feeling most alive when he's playing the blues with his grandfather, Clayton is devastated when his grandfather dies and his mother forbids him from playing music, losses that compel him to run away and join bluesmen on the road. - (Baker & Taylor)

From beloved Newbery Honor winner and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia comes a powerful and heartfelt novel about loss, family, and love that will appeal to fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander.

Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.

Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.

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 Youth/Teens Winner * Chicago Public Library Best Books * Boston Globe Best Books of 2017

"This slim novel strikes a strong chord."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.” School Library Journal (starred review)

"Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An appealing, realistic story with frequent elegant turns of phrase." —The Horn Book (starred review)

"Garcia-Williams skillfully finds melody in words.” —Booklist (starred review)


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Trade Reviews

Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Cool Papa Byrd and the blues: the two are intertwined for Clayton, and gigs with Papa's band, the Bluesmen, are their special excursions. His mother, Papa's daughter, doesn't know, because she hates the blues, and Clayton sometimes thinks she hates her father. One night, Cool Papa dies sitting in his chair, and it's up to the boy to figure out how to live life without him—and still keep the music close. Williams-Garcia's books always go deep inside the souls of their characters, but this one also digs down to find their anger. After her father's death, Ms. Byrd gets rid of all Cool Papa's things, even his beloved guitars, despite Clayton's anguish. The furious boy decides to take his blues harp and run away to find the Bluesmen. What he finds instead is a group of wild kids on the subway, beatboxing their way into a few coins and trouble, pulling him along. With the precision of a surgeon, Williams-Garcia lifts and examines layers of Clayton's hurt and anger: the loss, but also the inability of his dismissive mother to understand. Yet the book also smartly looks at Ms. Byrd's anger toward a father whose affection for music outdid his affection for her. The book's through line, though, is the music, and Williams-Garcia skillfully finds melody in words. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

This slim novel strikes a strong chord. Clayton Byrd revels in playing the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and other blues musicians in New York City's Washington Square Park, and he longs to play his own solo: "Twelve bars. That was all." Cool Papa is Clayton's favorite relative and ally, and his sudden death throws Clayton into an emotional spiral, especially as his mother's unresolved feelings toward her father cause her to sell off his possessions. Newbery Honor–winner Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer) creates a memorable cast and sketches complex, nuanced relationships, especially between Clayton and his mother, contrasting Clayton's closeness with his grandfather to the complicated absence of Clayton's own father. Clayton's grief causes dustups at school and church, and the stakes and tension rise considerably as Clayton meets a band of teenage subway performers, who get him to join their show then steal his grandfather's treasured hat. It's a holistic portrait of a family in pain, a realistic portrait of grief and reconciliation, and a reminder that sadness and loss are wrapped up in the blues. Ages 8–12. (May)

Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

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

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal.

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