Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Finalist, National Book Awards 2017 for Young People's Literature

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia book cover
ISBN 9780062215918
Amistad / HarperCollinsPublishers
author photo of Rita Williams-Garcia
Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams-Garcia, a Queens, New York native, is the celebrated author of novels for young adult and middle-grade readers. Her middle-grade novel, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Literature for Young People and was a 2017 National Book Award Finalist. More about this author >

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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.

Judges Citation

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is the trembling wail of a harmonica, the deep beat of drums, the salty riff of strings—all the familiar notes combined in a fresh tune. When Cool Papa is gone, Clayton turns to the blues because he needs them more than ever. Rita Williams-Garcia’s lyrical writing captures the music that drives him in this timeless tale exploring the nuances of grief in an intergenerational family, with a blues soundtrack shimmering underneath.