Title Smoky Night
Author Eve Bunting
Illustrator/Photographer David Diaz
Publisher and Year Harcourt Brace and Company, 1994
Number of pages: 28
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Descriptive Annotation: The illustrations found in Smoky Night are done in dark acrylic paints. The text is featured on a page by itself that has a collage-like background made of household objects or different textures of paper. Smoky Night depicts the story of a young boy and his mother who are forced to live in a makeshift shelter after a riot begins on their street. The book never tells specifically which riot is being described, but the events that occurred (breaking into stores, stealing, and yelling) as well as the feelings shown by the characters could apply to any riot or similar situation. When the family must evacuate their apartment building, the boy is more scared for his cat, which cannot be found. After arriving at the shelter, a firefighter brings the boy back his cat along with the cat of their neighbor, a woman with whom they did not usually get along. The cats bring the neighbors together, and the whole apartment building forms a bond that brings them together during that hard time.
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book features characters of different ages and races. In the beginning of the story, the main characters and their neighbor, Mrs. Kim, did not get along because she was not “one of their people.” Mrs. Kim was Asian, and the main family was black. Eventually, the two families come together. This book shows how racial stereotypes can be overcome if people take the time to know a person as a person and not as his or her race.
Interdisciplinary Connections: Smoky Night would go along with a social studies lesson. The teacher could discuss with his or her class what riots are and why they occur. For a more recent example, the teacher could bring up the riots and stealing that occurred post-Hurricane Katrina. Since this story is told from the perspective of a child, students may be able to get a better understanding of that topic.
Other Information: Diaz’s illustrations won this book the 1995 Caldecott Medal. Although this is a picture book, I would recommend it for fourth or fifth graders or even junior high students. The concept of rioting could make some students uneasy, and younger students who may have never been exposed to this type of event may have trouble comprehending why they occur.