Christy's Reviews > Smoky Night

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting
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Jan 31, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: k-3-picture-books, historical-fiction

In Smoky Night, Eve Bunting describes the Los Angeles race riots from the perspective of a young, African-American boy named Daniel. Daniel holds his cat, Jasmine, and watches the riot from his apartment window. He and his mother witness as windows and cars are smashed, businesses are robbed and smoke drifts.
Throughout the story, Daniel eludes to Mrs. Kim, who also owns a cat. He explains that Mrs. Kim owns a market but he and his mother do not shop there. Although Mrs. Kim’s market is close, Daniel’s mama feels it is better if they buy from, “their own people.”
By the end of the story, Daniel and his mother need to evacuate their building. They go to a shelter and see other neighbors, including Mrs. Kim. Much to their surprise, a firefighter walks into the shelter with Jasmine and Mrs. Kim’s cat. He explains that the cats were found hiding together. A woman puts a bowl of milk down and the cats jump to the ground together and share the milk. Everyone comments about the cats not getting along before. “They probably didn’t know each other before,” Daniel says. Everyone realizes that Daniel’s comment was about much more than the cats. Daniel’s mother and Mrs. Kim agree to a visit.
The Caldecott winning illustrations by David Diaz are in a collage format combined with acrylic paintings. Diaz includes concrete, everyday objects such as matches, cereal, plastic wrap and various fabrics and metals in his collages. These images elicit a chaotic mood and allow the reader to feel the riot. The illustrations in Smoky Night are original and outstanding in quality.
Smoky Night is one of those rare books with a powerful story and equally compelling images that enhance the text. The text and illustrations combine to create a mood of fear and chaos. Due to its subject matter, Smoky Night would probably best be used with students aged 9 and above.
Smoky Night may be used in several social studies units, including social justice, world connections and multi-cultural study. This book lends itself to social and political discussions. The statement made by Daniel’s mother about buying from their “own kind” may be examined and discussed. Students can write a personal response about this quote or the overall message of the book. Art students can create their own collages about Smoky Night or other socially relevant topics. Smoky Night is a brilliantly illustrated book with a poignant message for students.
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