Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Published by Amistad / HarperCollins, 2017
Clayton Byrd loves playing the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and other blues musicians in the park. Clayton is eagerly looking forward to the day he’ll finally get the nod from his grandfather to take a solo during one of their performances. When his grandfather dies suddenly, Clatyon’s mother is too wrapped up in her own complicated feelings to be sensitive to her son’s grief and sells Cool Papa’s belongings. Struggling in the days that follow—he keeps falling asleep in class—Clayton finally skips school to go in search of the bluesmen in the park. On the subway, he’s mesmerized by a group of kids who beatbox and dance for money. Clayton can’t help but join in on his harmonica, and the boys net their biggest take of the day when they pass the hat. While Clayton likes the younger kids in the group, the oldest teen snatches the hat Clayton is wearing, the last thing Clayton has left from Cool Papa. Determined to get it back, Clayton sticks with the group, bending notes to create a melody matched to their hip-hop beat. A marvelous author’s note on the musical origins of blues and hip-hip and her appreciation for both concludes a story about love and grief and music and family and the importance of being heard.