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Cover image for Night on fire
Night on fire
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
600 L Lexile
"When thirteen-year-old Billie Sims learns that the Freedom Riders, a civil rights group protesting segregation on buses in the summer of 1961, will be traveling through Anniston, Alabama, she thinks change could be coming to her stubborn town. But what starts as angry grumbles soon turns to brutality, and Billie is forced to reconsider her own views"--


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Thirteen-year-old Billie Simms doesn't think her hometown of Anniston, Alabama, should be segregated, but few of the town's residents share her opinion. So when Billie learns that the Freedom Riders, a group of peace activists riding interstate buses to protest segregation, will be traveling through Anniston on their way to Montgomery, she thinks that maybe change is finally coming and her quiet little town will shed itself of its antiquated views. But when the bus stops, Anniston residents show just how deep their racism runs. The Freedom Riders will resume their ride to Montgomery and Billie is now faced with a choice: stand idly by in silence or take a stand for what she believes in.

Author Notes

Ronald Kidd is the author of ten novels for young readers, including the highly acclaimed Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial. His novels of adventure, comedy, and mystery have received the Children's Choice Award, an Edgar Award nomination, and honors from the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. He is a two-time O'Neill playwright who lives in Tennessee.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a powerful historical story that confronts uncomfortable truths about racism, 13-year-old tomboy Billie Sims feels she has outgrown Anniston, Ala., where she lives with her family and their African-American maid, Lavender. It's 1961, and while Anniston is still segregated, Billie doesn't think of herself, her family, or the town as racist until the activist Freedom Riders are viciously attacked while traveling through Anniston. Billie begins to take a hard look at her family's relationship with Lavender and the reasons for continued segregation, while forging a slow connection with Jermaine, Lavender's daughter. Jermaine initially resents Billie for what she perceives as her privilege and complacence, yet they bond over career dreams and, finally, a shared goal of following the Freedom Riders to Montgomery. Kidd (The Year of the Bomb) creates strong-willed, contemplative heroines while capturing period details and the energy of the civil rights movement. As Billie acknowledges the insidiousness of the prejudice within herself and her community and makes steps toward uprooting it, her transformation is painful and profound. Ages 9-13. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Billie, a thirteen-year-old tomboy who enjoys watching Greyhound buses wind through her small Alabama town, gradually becomes an ally to the Freedom Riders. She observes and befriends members of the group of civil rights activists while questioning why her own family continues to uphold racist beliefs. The story offers an intense window into civil rightsera violence from a Southern white girls perspective. (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Acclaimed Kidd's latest historical novel centers on events converging in Anniston, Alabama, on Mother's Day in 1961. Thirteen-year-old Billie, a tomboy curious about the Freedom Riders, who have come to her town, watches in horror as their bus is firebombed. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with her black housekeeper's daughter, Jarmaine, and the two ride the bus to Montgomery in a parallel journey with the Freedom Riders, ultimately spending the night in the First Baptist Church in earshot of famous civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Along the way, Billie comes to grips with her own prejudices, inherited from her parents, in a way that is both lyrical and honest. In a year in which news events have made it clear that the civil rights movement is far from over, titles like Kidd's have special resonance. His focus on a lesser-known historical moment provides a window into the past, while Billie's internal thoughts about the two Annistons the one she knows, and the one Jarmaine knows seem in many ways a mirror to the present. An author's note provides further historical context. Pair with Anne Bausum's Freedom Riders (2005) for the full story of the Freedom Rides. Moving, powerful, and deeply relevant today.--Barnes, Jennifer Copyright 2015 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-Anniston, AL, 1961. The Greyhound buses are the shiniest and most exciting things that ever speed through Billie Sims's small town, and as Billie races them down the hill on her bicycle, she dreams of riding away to freedom, to find excitement. As it turns out, she doesn't even have to ride as far as the bus station to find all of those things and more than she bargained for. The Freedom Riders are coming to town, challenging the "traditions" and the segregationist status quo that Billie is just learning to see and to question, with some help from her neighbors and friends, including firebrand reporter Tom McCall and his photographer son, Grant-as well as her family's longtime maid, Lavender Jones, and Lavender's daughter, Jarmaine. Billie admires the Riders' purpose and strength, and goes to see them hoping to be changed and witness history. History on Mother's Day 1961, though, comes in the form of fire and blood, as people Billie thought she knew become an angry mob that burns the bus and beats the Riders in front of her local grocery store, while she watches along with her good ol' boy father and the Alabama Highway Patrol. The protagonist's direct and courageous response to her new awareness, along with a love of adventure and a new friend, carries her all the way to Montgomery, to the First Baptist Church to hear Dr. King speak. The story is filled with cameo appearances from Dr. King, Reverend Abernathy, Diane Nash, and other well-known names of the civil rights movement, but Billie and Jarmaine are more than bystanders. "After a lifetime of watching, [she] decided to ride." The story focuses on the events of the day, but also on Billie's growing understanding of her own internalized racism and racial blindness, which brings the story out of the "we've solved it" past and helps it resonate with children growing up in today's America. Kidd's writing is clear and direct, if not subtle, and he raises many hard questions with nuance and with hope. A brief author's note discusses the historical events in the story and mentions source material and further reading. VERDICT Share this thought-provoking brush-with-history story with fans of Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 (Delacore, 1995) and Sharon Draper's Stella by Starlight (S. & S., 2015).-Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

In 1961, riding a Greyhound bus was more than a way to get from one place to another. For some, the destination was freedom. Told through the eyes of a white teen with a thirst for adventure, the novel takes readers on an aching journey of self-discovery at a time when figuring out the world meant facing devastating truths about where you lived and what you loved. Thirteen-year-old Billie Sims loves watching the sleek, silver Greyhound buses pass through Anniston, Alabama, reading the bus schedule the way some kids read the funny papers. She loves home, but she yearns for more, hoping and dreaming about taking the bus into her future. However, with parts of the South refusing to enforce segregation laws and civil rights activists refusing to back down, Billie soon learns that seeing the world is not as important as seeing what is right in front of her. Kidd writes with insight and restraint, creating a richly layered opus that hits every note to perfection. Readers who know the history will cringe at Billie's naivet; those who do not will surely find themselves re-evaluating their worlds. For them, Billie's coming-of-age could serve as a cautionary tale about where America once was and why we all need to stay vigilant, lest we returnas current headlines attest. Beautifully written and earnestly delivered, the novel rolls to an inexorable, stunning conclusion readers won't soon forget. (Historical fiction. 9-13) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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