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Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,125 ratings  ·  422 reviews
A National Book Award Longlist title that has earned 5 starred reviews!

"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 appea
ebook, 176 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Quill Tree Books
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Liesel I would say 4th grade and up. It deals with some complex feelings like grief, long term consequences of actions, and running away. It's not a dark boo…moreI would say 4th grade and up. It deals with some complex feelings like grief, long term consequences of actions, and running away. It's not a dark book, but you could definitely have an amazing conversation discussing topics, themes, and relating to it. :)(less)
Pam It appears to be made up as I cannot find any references to it nor to the the main character in it. I was kind of surprised as children's authors ofte…moreIt appears to be made up as I cannot find any references to it nor to the the main character in it. I was kind of surprised as children's authors often do include real books and stories in their work. Also, I kinda wanna read it!(less)

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Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,125 ratings  ·  422 reviews

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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Clayton Byrd delights in playing music with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and his band of Bluesmen. Though he’s occasionally permitted to join in on his blues harp, Clayton longs for his own twelve-bar solo and to be a “true bluesman among bluesmen.” When tragedy strikes Clayton’s family, his ability to play music is threatened. Burdened by grief and determined to keep the blues in his life, Clayton s
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
dang i liked this book so much. the audio is really superb.

is this what kids read nowadays? cuz this is chock full with super duper themes dealt with delicacy but also, you know, head-on.

foremost, grief. also, when a bad-ass parent becomes a good grandparent: where do the middle-generation loyalties lie?

also, kids and art and the much underacknowledged place of black music in america and the world.

also, fuck this country's police culture.
Laura Harrison
This book breaks my heart. There was so much potential. I loved every moment of this title until Clayton's grandfather dies. Clayton gets in trouble for his incredibly poor behavior in school (he falls asleep during required class reading of a book his grandfather used to read to him at night and gazes at a lizard-clearly a life of crime is ahead of him). The mom- and I use the term loosely has obviously been jealous of the love the grandpa and Clayton shared his whole life. If she resented her ...more
Brandy Painter
Clayton is an excellent main character. He is grieving the death of his grandfather and trying to navigate all those emotions while his mom is dealing with it in exactly the opposite way he needs. The inter-generational struggles here and how we carry the baggage of disappointing relationships into new ones is explored in a way that the target audience can take in. I think this could have been a truly extraordinary book, but (and I can't believe I'm saying this) it was too short. The last quarte ...more
Destinee Sutton
Beautifully written, but not very satisfying. I'm torn.

I did feel very strongly about one thing. Clayton's mother was *so* frustrating. You can tell she's trying to be a perfect mother, but to me it seemed like she did everything wrong. She didn't respect Clayton's relationship with Cool Papa. It was like she was trying to make Clayton's grieving process more difficult. And then she treated Clayton's falling-asleep-in-school problem like a flaw in Clayton's character. The woman drove me crazy.
Mary Ann
Young African-American Clayton Byrd yearns “to be a true bluesman among bluesmen,” playing blues harp alongside his grandfather Cool Papa Byrd and his band. When Cool Papa dies suddenly in his sleep, Clayton grieves deeply, his loss amplified by his mother’s anger toward her father’s blues playing days away from the family. Adam Lazarre-Whites narration resonates deeply, bringing depth and emotion to this touching story.

Right from the first page, Rita Williams-Garcia weaves the power of blues th
Jordan Henrichs
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Reminds me a bit of Jason Reynolds' GHOST, but not near as authentic in voice as that title was. And like that title, I didn't really get much out of this one. I did not care for the first half of this novel. Cool Papa passes away just after we're introduced to him and the plot of the first half merely consists of Clayton struggling to stay awake in school. While Clayton running away from home in the second act and getting caught up in the wrong crowd sounds exciting, it really wasn't. I found m ...more
Michele Knott
This book puts your heart through the wringer!
Book Concierge
Digital audiobook performed by Adam Lazarre-White.

From the book jacket: When, Cool Papa, when? That’s what Clayton Byrd is always asking his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. When does he get a solo to show off his talent on the blues harp? Clayton feels most alive when he’s with Cool Papa Byrd and the Bluesmen, playing the music he feels in his bones. But then the unexpected happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies. Clayton’s mother forbids him from playing the blues. For Clayton, that’s no way to live.
Ms. Yingling
ARC from Publisher at ALA

Clayton loves to hang out with his grandfather, Cool Papa, and play the blues at Washington Square Park with his grandfather's band. Clayton desperately wants to have a solo, but Cool Papa tells him he's not quite ready. The two do this whenever Clayton's mother has a long nursing shift, since she is not thrilled with Clayton taking part in these activities. Since Cool Papa frequenly was on the road when she was growing up, Clayton's mother is very bitter about the music
Clayton and his grandfather share a close bond and a love of the blues. When Clayton's grandfather passes away suddenly, he is lost in his grief. His mother isn't processing her grief in a similar fashion, she is selling his grandfather's prized possessions, which feels like she's trying to erase his existence to Clayton who is having a difficult time expressing the depths of his loss to his mother. This puts the two at odds and Clayton's behavior is treated as acting out which is punished by ta ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Molly Dettmann
Jun 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Clayton Bryd's Cool Papa Byrd, his grandfather who loves the Blues as much as he loves Clayton, passes away unexpectedly leaving Clayton heartbroken and his mother angrily selling all his possessions. While dealing with his grief, Clayton tries to bury himself in his music, while his mother forbids it. While both are grieving in their own way, it takes a secret trip "underground" for them to start to understand each other and heal together.

Ugh! This book had so much promise and while I think it
Jun 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Could have been just a little longer to really better examine the issues discussed.
Nadia L. Hohn
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read "Clayton Byrd Goes Underground" on my Kindle while on my treadmill mostly and the last couple pages in my bed, under the covers (the best place to read). Rita Williams-Garcia books are so catchy. I have read almost all of them. I truly felt the music in "Clayton Byrd Goes Underground"--
the blues, the tunes from Clayton's blues harp (his harmonica), and Cool Papa's guitar Wah-Wah-nita. This book took me on an emotional journey. It felt like one continuous thread as the reader follows one d
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was really good. A short book will move you and is full of meaning. Clayton’s relationship with his grandfather was sweet and felt familiar. It was interesting to see how Clayton processed his anger and grief. While it was frustrating that the adults didn’t try to look deeper, initially, it was good to see Clayton try to express himself verbally. While he didn’t always make the best choices, it was nice that we got to see Clayton react to what was going on. That made him feel real and relat ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Clayton loves his grandfather and music. They share the love of blues. There is nothing more that Clayton wants than to be a musician with his grandpa's band. At what lengths will he go to achieve this goal? ...more
Angela Blount
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-grade
Originally reviewed for YA Books Central:

A stirring, tuneful tale of familial ties—those that bind and those that constrain.

This contemporary Middle Grade book is told almost entirely from the third-person past-tense perspective of Clayton Byrd, a young boy who lives in New York City with his willfully single mother and his beloved “Cool Papa.” (Clayton’s father, Mr. Miller, is as present in Clayton’s life as his mother will allow… more on this later.) C
Richie Partington
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Richie’s Picks: CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND by Rita Williams-Garcia, HarperCollins/Amistad, May 2017, 176p., ISBN: 978-0-06-221591-8

“When no one steps on my dreams there'll be days like this
When people understand what I mean there'll be days like this
When you ring out the changes of how everything is
Well my mama told me there'll be days like this ”
-- Van Morrison (1995)

“It was seven forty-five and the plan was in action. Clayton avoided the main streets and began the three-quarter-mile hike to
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This perfectly pitched novel about a young black boy's musical journey out of grief after the death of his beloved Cool Papa is pure gold. Funny, smart and full of authentic middle school moments that made me nod in recognition on almost every page, it has the added personal bonus of being set in Queens and the neighborhood where I work in Manhattan. What a delightful, timely addition to RWG's already stupendous body of work. ...more
Mary Louise Sanchez
Clayton and his grandpa, Cool Papa, sneak away on nights Clayton's mom works a long shift. They go to play the blues at Washington Square Park with Cool Papa's band--grandpa on guitar and Clayton on the blues harp (harmonica). But then Cool Papa dies unexpectedly after reading a bedtime story to Clayton. Clayton's mom immediately starts getting rid of every trace of her father--from his guitars to his pork pie hat and she forbids Clayton to play the blues.

Clayton wishes his mother could underst
D.M. Patterson
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
The writing style was wonderful and I loved how Williams-Garcia described the sounds of the music. The story was interesting and drew me in and kept me until the end. I liked Clayton's idealization of Cool Papa and his inability to understand why his mom was so mad at Cool Papa. Cool Papa is always there for Clayton in a way he was never there for his own daughter, so Clayton misses the point entirely. It adds a very rich and a very real level of conflict I think a lot of us can relate to. It be ...more
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Clayton Byrd loves playing the blues with his Cool Papa. He is talented with the blues harp and doesn't like when people call it a harmonica. Cool Papa typically watches Clayton because his mom works long hours. Cool Papa and Clayton have a beautiful relationship, but Clayton's mom doesn't particularly like the influence the blues might have on her son.

This book is a sweet story about love and acceptance. It is also a story about coping with loss and grief. Highly recommend.
Mary Lee
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This white girl from small town/small city doesn't know blues and doesn't know subways, but I was pulled into the story of a boy grieving for his beloved grandfather. One of my fifth grade readers gulped it down in no time, and I read it the same way. ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow! Really this one is 4.5 stars for me, only because I wanted to know some of the characters for a bit longer. This book packs a lot of emotion and story in only a few pages. Definitely a Newbery contender.
Jillian Heise
A sweet story of grief, family, hope, and knowing what means the most to you and finding a way to hang on to it.
Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens
"This slim novel strikes a strong chord"—Publishers Weekly ...more
Alex  Baugh
Nothing makes Clayton Bryd happier than sneaking off to Washington Square Park and playing his blues harp (a/k/a harmonica) with his beloved grandfather Cool Papa Byrd and his friends the Bluesmen, except possibly playing a twelve-bar solo. But all Cool Papa keeps telling his not yet. Then, the unthinkable happens and Cool Papa is gone from Clayton's life.

No sooner is Cool Papa's funeral over than his daughter, Juanita, Clayton's mom, decides to sell all his belongings - records, guitars, clothi
Anita McDivitt Barrios
Clayton Byrd's momma does not like music, at least it appears that way to Clayton. While Clayton adores and soaks up every word regarding music and playing the blues from his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, his mother wants nothing to do with Cool Papa's beats.

So when Cool Papa dies, and Clayton's mother practically gives away all of Cool Papa's things, including selling his two guitars, Clayton's heart is crushed.

His mother wants him to forget all this blues nonsense, and Clayton makes some not ve
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"I was born in Queens, N.Y, on April 13, 1957. My mother, Miss Essie, named me 'NoMo' immediately after my birth. Although I was her last child, I took my time making my appearance. I like to believe I was dreaming up a good story and wouldn’t budge until I was finished. Even now, my daughters call me 'Pokey Mom', because I slow poke around when they want to go-go-go.

"I learned to read early, and

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