Fiery Night: A Boy, His Goat, and the Great Chicago Fire

By: Sally M. Walker
Illustrated By: Kayla Harren
Published On: September 1, 2020

Illustrations of fierce orange, angry red, and threatening yellow await readers in this harrowing and heartwarming historical picture book story about a boy named Justin Butterfield and his goat, Willie, during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Around midnight, Justin and his family are woken up to pounds on the door telling them they need to wake up. A policeman tell them there is a fire and they need to protect themselves. The family rushes to save their house from flying orange embers, but soon realize it is too late: the house is lost and they will need to find a way to escape. They gather all the belongings they can into a wheelbarrow while Justin is determined to ensure Willie comes with them.

Slowly their family along with many, many other families are forced into the street looking for safety, which they hope they will have once they reach Lake Michigan. Willie is scared. The air is filled with too much smoke and the flames are getting closer so the family is forced to leave even their belongings in order to keep ahead of the fire, but Justin keeps Willie and continues to protect him from the ash and the wind and the fire throughout the night until it is over.

Two things are simply amazing to me:

1) After the fire the Butterfields stayed with friends. While there Justin wrote a letter to a friend telling him of what happened and drew a picture of them fleeing the fire that was included within the fire. This picture is now housed at the Chicago Historical Society and can be seen at the end of the story along with actual photos of the aftermath of the event.

2) The pictures are perfection. Their vivid colors evoke so much emotion as they help recreate the story of what the Butterfields and others must have witnessed and experienced during this fire. A few years back I remember seeing a specific video shown on the nightly news of a person’s car ride escape from one of the California fires. The colors of orange, yellow, and red screaming out all around them. If you have ever seen one of those videos then you can imagine what many of the illustrations may look like within this picture book.

Fiery Night is a well told story that is paced evenly showing the love between Justin and Willie and the escape. And even though the story focuses on one family, I appreciated how it demonstrated that this impacted more than just the Butterfield’s and how it impacted the entire city and community. The story and the illustrations together create a wonderfully memorable book that will be difficult to pass up. However, please note that because of fierceness of the flame illustrations and because the story recounts a very dramatic moment in time some children may find it a little scary.

Thanks to Netgalley and Capstone for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 5 stars


Based on a true story, Fiery Night is a heartwarming, empowering picture book about a little boy’s devotion to his pet goat, Willie, and how they gave each other strength during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Young Justin Butterfield was awakened in the night by neighbors warning his family of the coming fire. The Butterfields did what they could to save their home but eventually had to flee. Justin insisted on taking Willie with them, even though the frightened goat made it more difficult for them to get away quickly. Encouraging and comforting Willie helped bolster Justin’s own courage during the family’s difficult journey through the burning city.

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