Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The music behind Clayton Byrd: developing students' background knowledge

I'm continuing my celebration of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground today, sharing videos of the music infusing this story. Yesterday I shared my full review of this outstanding new novel. Later this week I'll share students' reactions, and then I'll finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Whenever you start a new book, you begin by building images and a framework for the story. The author brings much of that, but as a reader you add in your own experience and knowledge. This background knowledge helps readers develop a fuller picture of the story.

Today, I started reading Clayton Byrd Goes Underground with our 4th grade classes and I began by showing the book trailer. I specifically wanted students to get a feel for the music, the characters, the tone of the book. I asked students to focus on Cool Papa and his electric blues guitar, and on Clayton with his harmonica. This was a fabulous way to plant the seeds for them, activating knowledge they brought and giving others a sense of the story before we began.

As we continue reading this story together, I will want to share a few more videos to give students a sense of the blues music that means so much to Cool Papa Byrd and Clayton. "What Is the Blues" from Music Maker Relief Foundation captures the heritage, the feelings, the history behind the Blues--and what it means to folks still today.

"The Blues is essential, man, to life." "Look where you coming from. And look ahead."

I'd also like students to develop a little more feeling for the harmonica, or blues harp as Clayton calls it. I'd like to share this video of Sam Frazier, Jr., a harmonica player and country singer from Edgewater, Alabama, a small mining camp outside of Birmingham.

As we get into the second half of the book, I want to celebrate beatboxing. In her author's note, Rita Williams-Garcia specifically mentions seeing a video of Doug E. Fresh playing the harmonica as he beatboxed. This is a great clip of him that will help students hear how Clayton used his blues harp with the boys on the train.

This is Doug E. Fresh beatboxing on harmonica at the Old School Hip Hop at Wolf Creek Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA. Rita Williams-Garcia writes in her author's note:
"Years ago I saw a video of rapper Doug E. Fresh alternately beatboxing and playing the harmonica in his live show. I was used to hearing the harmonica played in blues and in country-and-western music, but this mash-up clicked instantly for me! Of course, the blues and hip-hop!" 
I want to help students hear the blues cries when they read the book, and so it's important to share some of the music with them as we read. We can't assume that all students will bring this background knowledge to the book. Likewise, I want to celebrate hip-hop, a musical style that continues to speak so directly to younger generations.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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