The protagonist of Smoky Night looks out his window at a looter and the smoke of the LA Riots
A combination of the twentieth anniversary of the LA Riots and buying baby presents for some friends, reminded me of Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, a Caldecott award winning children’s book on the LA Riots. It is one of the only books we have ever bought for our daughter then returned. We have tons of books, all kinds of books; we believe in a welcoming bookcase. I might want to eliminate Amelia Bedelia due to negative gender roles, but she stays. My wife might want to send the Cat in the Hat and his annoying tactics of home invasion packing, but he stays.
Nonetheless, Smoky Night left after one reading. It does have a positive message. During the riots the black protagonist whose family refused to shop in the local Korean store, comes to understand and respect his Korean neighbors as they share a concern over missing cats. But there are just lines I do not like in a children’s book. For example, the page starting, “Mama explains about rioting…” followed by the illustration of looters taking a television. Then there is the section where the protagonist explains that he and his family do not shop at the Koreans’ store because “It’s better if we buy from our own people.
Looters taking a television in Smoky Night
This is a book I would enjoy analyzing in a college seminar on children’s literature, but it is not a book I can see reading to actual children. I might be wrong, it could be a first step to awareness for preschoolers, but do preschoolers even have a conception of race? I wonder why I find the violence, smoke and fire, and rage in this book worse than the violence, smoke and fire, and rage found in, say, Sleeping Beauty, but I do.
I know, perhaps we should send out copies to friends with children and see what they think. Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to include a gift receipt.