Smoky Night
by Eve Bunting 
illustrated by David Diaz 

Smoky_Night.jpgThemes: Peace, Diversity, Community, Self-Control, Choices

Grade: 4-8

Story Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, this moving book tells the story of a mother and her son, Daniel, fleeing their apartment as looting and fires consume their street. Daniel is upset by what he sees, but is most concerned that he cannot find his cat Jasmine. After Daniel and his mother arrive at the shelter, Jasmine appears along with another neighborhood cat. The neighbors at the shelter learn from Daniel that despite their differences, people – and cats – can get along once they get to know each other.

Why We Love This Book: We love that this story is set in a real-life event, yet addresses themes that have timeless appeal. The text is loaded with intensely truthful conversations and observations about violence and community, but from a child’s perspective with an accessible tone. Furthermore, the illustrator weaves everyday objects and vivid paintings into textured collages that make the story more tangible and relevant for students. We love using this book to prompt discussions about ways to live peacefully in communities and celebrate diversity, as well as to show the real-life negative ripples that can be spread by acts of violence.

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Learning Goal/Objective:

Students will be able to:

  • Discuss the importance of getting to know people who appear different from them.
  • Analyze how using the Awareness Formula helps people learn about others and act peacefully.
  • Discuss how communities are affected by acts of violence.
  • Compare the effects of peaceful and not-so-peaceful actions in a community.
  • Discuss using Self Control to prevent acts of violence.

Estimated Time: 15 minutes (10 min. to read, 5 min. to debrief)

Before Reading:

  • Review listening procedures. (Listening Lesson)
  • Review Voice Levels: Voice Level 0 during reading.
  • Introduce story and setting: This story takes place during a real event that happened not too long ago, in 1992 in Los Angeles. Some people were very upset because of things that were happening in the news. People were upset because the news pointed out serious misunderstandings that existed between people. And some of those people acted out of anger in response to the news; they didn’t use their S.T.A.R. Power. This is a fictional (made-up) story about a boy and his mom as they see all this happening outside their apartment window.
  • Introduce the illustrations: Pay attention to the illustrations as I read the story. The illustrator, David Diaz, not only painted pictures of what is happening in the story, but also created collages in the background using real things that relate to what’s happening in the story.
  • Read the dedication page: Eve Bunting dedicated this book ‘For the peacekeepers.’ That’s all of you, all of us. All the people trying to use their S.T.A.R. Power to make the world a little more peaceful. So, this book is for you. (see S.T.A.R. Power lesson)

During Reading/Active Engagement:

  • p.3 (stealing TVs): What do you think it means when the boy says ‘They look angry. But they look happy, too?’  Have you ever seen someone look angry, but also kind of happy?  
    • Explain that when we don’t use self-control and end up in the Red Zone, it can be hard to tell the difference between happy and angry. When we let our emotions control our actions, we can send out hurtful ripples because we start treating our actions like a game – we can forget that people’s real feelings and real lives are involved.
  • p.5-7 (shoes-Kim’s Market): What do you notice about the illustrations? What’s in the background of these pages? (old shoes, cereal pieces, torn cardboard or signs – debris from the looting)
    • Does Mrs. Kim seem happy? (no) What do we know so far about Mrs. Kim and the boy telling the story? (They speak different languages; the boy lives near Kim’s Market; their cats fight; Mrs. Kim is not “our own people” – they come from different backgrounds and live separate lives.)
  • p.13-15 (fire): Look at the colors on these pages. What are the main colors? (red, orange). What are these colors telling us? (fire, danger, people are angry, it is not a safe place to be, they’re in the Red Zone and people might get hurt)
  • p.17-19 (shelter): Explain that the shelter is a safe place for everyone to go, set up to help people in the community during an unsafe time. All the people from the neighborhood – not just “our own people” – go to the same place to stay safe.
    • Daniel ‘almost’ says that Mrs. Kim’s cat is ‘fat and mean.’ Why do you think he stops himself from saying it? (He’s scared; he feels bad for Mrs. Kim; he’s worried about Jasmine.)
  • p.25 (My name is Gena): Why did the grown-ups at the shelter suddenly get quiet? What did they learn from Daniel? (Daniel explained that the cats didn’t like each other because they didn’t know each other; the grown-ups realized they had never gotten to know their neighbors; Daniel’s mom decides to get to know Mrs. Kim)
  • p.27 (He’s purring): What do you notice about the illustrations now? (The colors are brighter; there are flowers; the papers and plastic are smoothed out and neat; they are lighter and happier – the community is a happier, safer place to be; it’s peaceful again.)

After Reading:

Discussion questions to reach Learning Goals:

  • What did Daniel and Jasmine teach the grown-ups at the shelter? (People with differences might like each other if they take the time to get to know each other.)

Diversity Discussion:

  • Discuss Fear Formula/Awareness Formula (see Celebrating Diversity Lesson): Before going to the shelter, how did Daniel and his mom respond to their ignorance of Mrs. Kim? (kept away from her (FEAR), didn’t go to her store (HURTFUL BEHAVIOR))
  • After Jasmine and Mrs. Kim’s cat showed everyone that they could help each other during the fire, how did Daniel’s mom and Mrs. Kim change their behavior? (They used the Awareness Formula: introduced themselves, Gena invited Mrs. Kim over once things settle down.)
  • Ask students to Turn-and-Talk with a partner: If the fire had never happened, do you think Gena and Mrs. Kim would ever have gotten to know each other? Why or why not?
    • Discuss that sometimes it takes a crisis or emergency to bring people together. Imagine how much better the neighborhood/world would be if we used our S.T.A.R. Power and made the effort to get to know people who are different from us.

Peace and Self-Control Discussion:

  • Did it seem like the people who did the rioting and looting knew Daniel, Gena, and Mrs. Kim? (No.
  • People were angry, went straight to the Red Zone, and acted out of anger. They didn’t think about the consequences of their actions, and did not show respect for themselves, others or their community. They were acting in a not-so-peaceful way.
  • Remember that this story is set during a real-life event, a real riot. In this book, what kind of damage was caused by the riot? (List responses on board: fires, people forced out of their homes, businesses looted, glass broken, pets lost)
  • In addition, during the real riots over 50 people were killed, 2,000 more were hurt, and the damages to stores, people’s homes, and property cost over $1 billion. Rioting went on for 5 days before it finally quieted down.
  • What kind of ripples were spread through the community by these hurtful actions? (people were hurt or killed, lots of damage, lives disrupted).
  • When you are at school, home, or in your community, how could Red Zone actions ripple outward and affect others? (say something mean to friends; get in a fight; break something; hurt someone’s body or feelings)
    • What could you do instead? When you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated, how could you use your S.T.A.R. Power to stay in the Green? (Count to 10, talk to a friend, play some music, etc.)
  • Which characters in the story did act peacefully? What did they do? (Firefighters and workers at the shelter helping others, neighbors helping and comforting each other, Daniel taking care of the cats, Gena and Mrs. Kim starting to get to know each other)
    • What positive ripples do you think these peaceful actions sent through the community?
    • How could acting peacefully at home and at school send positive ripples through your community?

Follow-up Activities:

  • Research the 1992 L.A. Riots.
    • Have students research the causes of the riots, the events surrounding the riots, and the long-term impacts (what has been done since then to make things better). Students can present their findings through posters, writing, or other media.
  • Ripple Effect Demo (Activity Guide)
  • Find Someone Who (Activity Guide)
  • 3 Breaths, 10 Seconds (Activity Guide)
  • Stoplight Relay (Activity Guide)
  • Writing Prompts:
    • Write a story about what happened to Jasmine and Mrs. Kim’s cat before the fire fighter found them. End your story with the cats holding paws as the fire fighter discovers them.
    • Write about a time you got to know someone different than you.
    • Daniel and his neighbors learned an important lesson about community from Jasmine and Mrs. Kim’s cat. Write a list of 10 important lessons you could learn from cats or other animals.

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