I can relate to Clayton Bird. I may be a middle-aged white woman living in Iowa, but I understand his pain. I might not have grown up with a blues-playing grandpa–mine was known to ride a banana seat bike now and then, but wouldn’t have known what to do with a guitar—but I know how important people other than parents can be when you’re growing up. I remember being angry about injustice when I was a kid, or at least what I saw as injustice in my own life. And I know grief, really crushing grief that hides out in unexpected places and hits you at all the wrong times.
Clayton is the kind of character everyone can relate to on some level, although he might not look like many of the kids I knew growing up. That’s what’s so wonderful about Rita Williams-Garcia’s work. Her characters are simultaneously universal and completely unique. The small details make you think of your Uncle Rich or that kid you went to school with who had a goofy nickname or your best friend’s mom or whoever. His story, like many of Williams-Garcia’s, celebrates an ordinary life with extraordinary moments—moments which reveal quite a bit about our society as a whole and how kids navigate it. Her characters’ experiences reach out to you, whoever you are, wherever you live. It’s a gift we are so, so lucky to be able to witness and enjoy.
And if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Williams-Garcia mentions Kathi Appelt in her note at the end of the book. We all know (or maybe we don’t) just how crazy I am about Kathi Appelt. I’ve practically thrown her books at the 5th graders I visit if I find out they have somehow managed to miss them. And I don’t stop at once a year – she comes up repeatedly. Actually, I’ve kind of done the same with Rita Williams-Garcia’s books (One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama) because they are a different and wonderful brand of fabulous. Clearly, I’m just going to get worse. Prepare. Beware.
Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia