BookPage Children’s Top Pick, May 2017
Clayton Byrd is a bluesman. Despite his young age—and the fact that he can’t quite get those blue notes to wail like his grandfather and best friend, Cool Papa Byrd, can—he knows he’s a bluesman. He can feel it deep down in the pit of his stomach.
And like a true bluesman, when his grandfather dies, Clayton turns to music for solace. One problem: His mother has hidden his harmonica because he keeps falling asleep in class. Faced with the loss of his grandfather and a mother whose pain blinds her to his needs, Clayton recovers his harmonica and takes a note out of Cool Papa’s songbook—he hits the road.
But on his way to join up with Cool Papa’s backing band, the Bluesmen, Clayton runs into a pack of wayward youths who spend their days on the subway, dodging the police and dancing for spare change. Drawn by the beat-boxed rhythms that accompany their dance, Clayton adds his harmonica melody to the mix and quickly finds himself embroiled in their less-than-sunny subterranean world.
When his plan to join the Bluesmen goes bust and he finds himself holed up in a police station, waiting for his mother to pick him up, Clayton begins to grasp the desperation and despondency that births the blues anew in each generation.
In Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, three-time Coretta Scott King Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia has crafted an endearing family drama with all the wit, wisdom and resonance of the best blues songs.