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.

The Stray – Picture Book Review

Story and Illustrations By: Molly Ruttan
Published On: May 19, 2020

In The Stray, a family is out for a walk when a spaceship crashes nearby. There amongst the rubble is ‘the stray’. He’s a cross between a slug, a dog, a frog and maybe a few other things. One thing is for certain: he is a cutie! They decide to take him home and give him the name Grub. They give him lots of love and make him part of the family. They even try to teach him a few tricks, but soon they realize that perhaps he has a home somewhere else that he misses.

Continue reading “The Stray – Picture Book Review”

Going Up! – Picture Book Review

By: Sherry J. Lee
Illustrated By: Charlene Chua
Published: April 7, 2020

Party on the 10th floor! Olive is having a birthday party and has invited all her friends. In a building that reminds me a little of the Wayside School building where each floor is only one room, we see all of Olive’s friends get on the elevator to take them up to the the party.

The story starts with a picture of the invitation inviting Leonard (dad) and Sophie (young daughter). Together, the two bake cookies for the party and go to the elevator where she gets to push the button. The elevator starts to go up, but doesn’t go too far before it stops on the 2nd floor where two brothers get on – the Santucci brothers, who are dressed like they might be part of a biker gang (or maybe they’re Rockers?). Again the elevator goes up only to stop at the next floor.

This elevator is magical. At the end of the story, I counted 21 people, 2 dogs, and a bass and clarinet all fitting into the elevator. Even the people in the elevator laugh about whether the elevator can hold them all. The neighbors in this building all appear to be friends with each other, but what I love is the wide range of diversity they bring to the story. Not only multi-cultural it includes neighbors with different interests and different ages. I mean, how many picture books include two brothers in biker gear?

This is a cute and happy picture book that will be sure to please readers and listeners of the book.

Rating: 5 stars


Today is Olive’s birthday party, and Sophie and her dad have baked cookies. Sophie’s dad holds the platter so Sophie can push the elevator button for the tenth floor. But on the way up, the elevator stops to let the Santucci brothers get on. Then on the next floor, Vicky, Babs and their dog, Norman, get in. And as the elevator ascends, it keeps stopping, and more neighbors squeeze in to the crowded space: the Habibs, the Flores family, Mr. Kwan, Vi Tweedle with her Chihuahua, Minx. Everyone is going to the party!

Playfully combining the excitement and anticipation of a party with children’s universal love of riding in elevators, Sherry J. Lee’s picture book story is ultimately about community and a sense of belonging. With characters from many cultural backgrounds, it showcases the everyday diversity that many urban children experience. Charlene Chua’s illustrations provide loads of funny details and visual narratives that aren’t in the text, making for a multilayered reading experience. The book’s tall, narrow trim size adds to the effect of the rising elevator.