Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

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This is an amazingly insightful story about a child whose mother and father are so caught up in their own story and their own emotions that they completely miss what is going on with their son.  What happens when we miss seeing a child?  Here's a story that gives us a look at what their future could be... a Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Future scenario.....brilliant and much-needed.

A few ghost notes...then some electric blues sparks... the crowd waits. Clayton Byrd is watching his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and listening for the sign. It comes and Clayton knows his part. The other Bluesmen pick up their bass, turn to their keyboard, or keep the beat on the "tight" on the percussion. Clayton lifts his blues harp to his lips and blows "as much life as he could between the musical spaces the Bluesmen left open for him."

Cool Papa Byrd has given his grandson a space all his own. That blues harp is a part of Clayton as much as his left arm and the time he spends growing up on his grandfather's watchful eye is sent from the angels. It's Cool Papa who will make the spaghetti and fishsticks when they get home. It's Cool Papa who will read the bedtime story even though Clayton's mother says he's too old to be read to.

Clayton is being molded under Cool Papa's careful love. Cool Papa Byrd sees Clayton...gets him from the inside out. He is paying attention. Clayton's parents live apart and his mother works long hours at the hospital so it is a lucky thing that her father, Cool Papa, is around to care for Clayton. That care is something Clayton's mother longed for as a child but her father chose to go to sea and then to hit the road to play the blues.

This is a story about the empty places people hold onto. Those places wait inside of us and they are sad or angry or lonely. They can be all kinds of things but they tend to make our today a sorry version of what it could be. They keep the hurting child alive instead of letting us move into this time where we can feel love and joy and wonder.

Clayton falls asleep to the sound of Cool Papa's voice. When he wakes the next morning, Cool Papa is sitting in the chair, but he's gone. At that moment he needs someone to listen and understand and help him navigate the pain and the empty spaces.

Caught in her resentments from the past, Clayton's mother holds a yard sale and gets rid of everything Cool Papa owned..even his record albums.  Clayton grabs Cool Papa's navy blue cap and saves it for himself.  Mom doesn't stop there.  She tells Clayton he can never play the blues harp again.

This is exquisitely told. The frustrations, the pain, the potential choices that appear as Clayton responds to the incredibly lonely place where he is for now are realistic and vividly told. Tension and the first tinges of danger creep in his direction.

This is a story about adults who are so caught up in their own pain that they are blinded to the feelings, perceptions and experiences of their children. They miss what their children need most from them. They forget to stand in someone else's shoes.
Our young folks need us to listen to this and to pay attention to it and to learn from it. That's how their futures change and that's how we all grow and move to a better place for ourselves and our world.

This story will resonate with children who hold their own pain and will connect with children who are able to imagine the feeling of the losses and understand how important it is to be heard and understood and to have your feelings valued.

Rich. Sensitive. Vibrating with the deepest truths of the human experience from a child's point of view. Clayton Byrd is a gift.

166 pages Ages 8-12 978-0062215918

Keyword: multigenerational

Recommended by: Barb Langridge,

Read alike: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

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