Smoky Night

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1995

Smoky Night

Eve Bunting, text

David Diaz, illustrations

Harcourt, 1994

32 pp.

Age: 6+

Interests: city life, crime, racial tension, violence, community, single parent family, cats

Also by this author: Fly Away Home, Coffin on a Case!, The Memory String, How Many Days to America?, Night Tree, S.O.S Titanic

A boy and his mother watch people rioting in the street below. She tries to explain why people act the way they do. They watch the people loot Mrs. Kim’s store. They never shop there because his mom says it’s better to buy from “our own people”. Even his cat fights with Mrs. Kim’s cat. Later they awake to shouts of “fire!” and hurry out of their apartment building. The boy is worried about his cat, who is missing. They follow their neighbours through the smoke to spend the night in a church hall. A firefighter shows up later with the boy’s cat and Mrs. Kim’s cat, who now seem to be best friends. The boy’s mother introduces herself to Mrs. Kim.

A very accessible book about a difficult topic. The reasons for the riots are not revealed, other than that people are “angry”. The enmity with Mrs. Kim suggests racial tension, but again, this is only suggested, and not spelled out. The evacuation of the building and walk to the shelter down a dark street littered with glass is presented simply from the boy’s point of view. He is scared and worried about his cat, but the grownups around him are all reassuring. It’s a nice touch to centre his anxieties around his pet, and to give him (and us) a comforting ending when the cat is rescued.

The paintings are strangely calming, considering the subject matter. It helps that the rioters’ faces are not twisted in anger but seem strangely impassive and inscrutable. In fact throughout the story all the characters – except for two crying children – are shown in the same way. None of the many adults, or the boy himself, display fear or anger at all. This should make it easier for children to experience the story without becoming fearful themselves.

This book is age appropriate for six or even younger, though it is up to each parent to decide when to introduce their child to subject matter like this. If a child sees events like this on the news, or experiences something similar themselves, this might be a good book to attempt to make sense of it. The ending emphasizes community and reaching out to our neighbours.

(This title at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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