Dealing with Death in the Family

Today’s book is dealing with death in the family.  When someone dies, not everyone manages the loss in the same way.  In the case of Clayton Byrd and his mother, their different reactions to the death of his grandfather caused him to run away to find his Cool Papa Byrd in the music they played together.  This is a lyrical book that speaks to love, heartbreak and the beat of the music.

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Title: Clayton Byrd Goes Undergrounddealing with death in the family clayton byrd goes underground

Author: Rita Williams-Garcia

Target: Grades 4-6

Series: No

What this book is about:

Clayton plays the blues with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. Clayton is a blues harp player (harmonica) and when he plays with Cool Papa and the Bluesmen band he feels the music in his bones. But when his grandfather dies unexpectedly, his mother’s grief is very different from his own. She wants to get rid of any reminder of Cool Papa, while Clayton clings to his memories. In distress, he runs away from home to find the Bluesmen, his one tangible connection to his grandfather and he gets more than he bargained for.

Why I love this book:

  • I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read the author’s other award-winning series One Crazy Summer so I can’t compare the styles of the two books. But this book is written so lyrically I felt like I was in a cool jazz club while reading. Now it isn’t written in verse but with sentences such as “electric blues sparks jumped into the night” made me feel the sounds of the music.
  • I like the connection drawn between hip-hop and the blues. Clayton gets pulled into a band of hip-hop dancers who are scrounging for money on the subway. For kids who love music, this connection between styles is quite illuminating. Looking at both the conversational style tying together the two genres as well as finding their similar beat showed how they could be intertwined.
  • I have a problem with Clayton’s mom. She is so blinded by her own unhappiness that she absolutely fails to have compassion for Clayton. That is a tough one for me.

Who this book is for:

This is my big disconnect. I see great classroom conversations around this title but as for a kid picking it up on their own, well I am a little skeptical.

Final thoughts:

I can see how this one made the National Book Award finals, but it is probably not my pick for the overall winner.

To purchase this book:

Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground.  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.