Clayton Byrd Goes Underground.
By Rita Williams-Garcia.
May 2017. 176p. illus. Amistad, $16.99
(9780062215918). Gr. 5–8.
Cool Papa Byrd and the blues: the two are
intertwined for Clayton, and gigs with Papa’s
band, the Bluesmen, are their special excursions. His mother, Papa’s daughter, doesn’t
know, because she hates the
blues, and Clayton sometimes thinks she hates her
father. One night, Cool Papa
dies sitting in his chair, and
it’s up to the boy to figure
out how to live life without
him—and still keep the music close. Williams-Garcia’s
books always go deep inside the souls of their
characters, but this one also digs down to find
their anger. After her father’s death, Ms. Byrd
gets rid of all Cool Papa’s things, even his beloved guitars, despite Clayton’s anguish. The
furious boy decides to take his blues harp and
run away to find the Bluesmen. What he finds
instead is a group of wild kids on the subway,
beatboxing their way into a few coins and
trouble, pulling him along. With the precision
of a surgeon, Williams-Garcia lifts and examines layers of Clayton’s hurt and anger: the loss,
but also the inability of his dismissive mother
to understand. Yet the book also smartly looks
at Ms. Byrd’s anger toward a father whose affection for music outdid his affection for her.
The book’s through line, though, is the music,
and Williams-Garcia skillfully finds melody in
words. —Ilene Cooper
By Galia Oz. Illus. by Eda Kaban.
May 2017. 144p. Crown, $15.99 (9780399550201);
lib. ed., $18.99 (9780399550218); e-book, $15.99
(9780399550225). Gr. 3–5.
Friendship and self-identity drama await
readers at every page turn in this account of
Julie and her roller-coaster life. In the first
of three distinct episodes, Julie’s new puppy,
Shakshuka, goes missing. Julie enlists the
help of her friends to find her dog, and she
also stands up to a school bully. In the second episode, Julie’s cousin Effie trains for an
important race against Donna Silver, who is
from a rival middle school. Quiet Effie often
seems out of touch with reality, but can she
run! When it looks like someone is trying to
sabotage Effie’s chances of competing, suspicions cause a (temporary) rift between Julie
and her cousin. In episode three, Shakshuka
brings a mean cat home, and the classmates
see through insincerity and find true friendship. Oz’s novel portrays everyday kids with
relatable experiences and relationships. It includes bullies, a stutterer with an imagination
and great storytelling ability, and loving families. While characterization is predominant,
the ordinary experiences of these kids will
resonate with readers and have them waiting
for more installments. —J. B. Petty
Continued from p. 50
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The Doorman’s Repose.
By Chris Raschka. Illus. by the author.
May 2017. 160p. New York Review, $17.95
(9781681371009). Gr. 4–7.
Caldecott winner Raschka moves from picture book to illustrated chapter book in this
humorous, thought-provoking collection of
stories about the people—and mice—who
live at 777 Garden Avenue, a New York City
apartment building. Beginning with the
building’s new doorman, Raschka introduces
an odd assortment of tenants who frequently
pop in and out of one another’s stories, lending coherence to the 10 individual tales. The
eccentric cast of characters includes Fred, a
war vet obsessed with pigeons and gravity;
Mrs. MacDougal, the resident busybody;
Victoria, a young girl fascinated by plumbing; and Jack Whitefoot, a mouse boxing
champ training to take on a cat. Imagination is built into every detail, centering two
of the most interesting stories around a
forgotten music room and an old elevator,
which become characters in their own right.
The sophisticated writing style makes this
book most appropriate for a middle-grade
audience, though older readers will also appreciate 777 Garden Avenue’s intricacies.
Ultimately, this curious character study reveals how everyone is connected, whether
by fleeting interaction or grand gesture.
Down in Flames.
By P. W. Catanese.
Apr. 2017. 336p. Aladdin, $16.99 (9781481438032).
Sulfur’s fiery pit, once the underworld destination for evil doers’ souls, has been shut
down in favor of a more humane stay in the
Caverns of Woe—but not everyone likes that
decision. Archdemon Angela Obscura and
her reluctant human sidekick, 12-year-old
Donny, are busy recruiting allies for the Infernal Council and chasing whomever is stealing
souls—good and bad. This sequel to Donny’s
Inferno (2016) is more of the same episodic
action, with a subplot involving Donny’s
belief that Angela doesn’t really care about
him, and a brief encounter with his long-lost
mother. Catanese’s descriptive yet compact
prose moves story and action along at a clip.
He is good at creating fun but creepy locations
and quirky characters, and the fight scenes are
successful without being gory. There are a few
dated references to pop culture, such as mentions of Jimmy Stewart and lava lamps, but
readers will likely gloss right over them. The
last page is very clever, courtesy of Angela Obscura, and is a fun foil for readers who cheat.
By Scarlett Thomas.
May 2017. 384p. Simon & Schuster, $17.99
(9781481497848). Gr. 5–8.
“Find Dragon’s Green.” These are Effie
Continued on p. 58