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Bessie Smith and the Night Riders

Bessie Smith and the Night Riders

3.6 3
by Sue Stauffacher, John Holyfield (Illustrator)

Even though she can’t afford a ticket to see the great blues singer Bessie Smith perform, Emmarene listens outside Bessie’s tent—that is, until she bursts into the show to warn the crowd:The Night Riders have come!

Bessie marches right outside and confronts the Night Riders by giving one of her famous low moans that says, "I may be down and


Even though she can’t afford a ticket to see the great blues singer Bessie Smith perform, Emmarene listens outside Bessie’s tent—that is, until she bursts into the show to warn the crowd:The Night Riders have come!

Bessie marches right outside and confronts the Night Riders by giving one of her famous low moans that says, "I may be down and out, but I ain’t gonna take it no more." But will that be enough to scare them off ?

Based on a true incident, Bessie Smith and the Night Riders is a powerful story of facing down danger and standing up for what’s right. With John Holyfield’s luminous paintings setting the stage, readers will be cheering for Bessie and Emmarene all the way to their final bow.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
A young girl is excited when the train carrying the famous singer Bessie Smith comes to town. But she is depressed because she cannot afford a ticket to the performance. She manages to peek through the tent flap to see her idol. But then the Night Riders arrive, for these are days when the Ku Klux Klan is active in the South. She runs to warn those inside. The Riders seem to have come to burn down the tent and those in it. But Bessie bravely comes out and confronts them. The horses bolt, and Bessie goes back inside to continue singing, taking our young heroine with her for an evening she will never forget. The "Author's Note" tells us that the story is based on a true event and then fills in the background. Holyfield's acrylic paintings on canvas produce double-page scenes that bleed off the pages with a sense of drama. First they are filled with the young girl's anticipation and desire to hear her idol sing; then with the darkness of night and the strong color contrasts of Bessie's red dress, the Klan's white sheets, and the flaming torches. The final scene is one of musical delight. 2006, G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group, Ages 5 to 8.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-On a hot July day in 1927, the townsfolk of Concord, NC, gather to greet "the most famous blues singer in all the South" as she disembarks from her touring train. Emmarene Johnson, a youngster who longs to attend the evening's tent show by "Bessie Smith and her Harlem Frolics," can't afford a ticket and must be content with peeking through the tent flaps for a look at her idol. From this vantage point, she notices Ku Klux Klan members removing the tent stakes and alerts the singer to the danger. She marches outside, draws herself up to her full six feet, sends the Night Riders packing, and then continues her performance. While Smith's hard-drinking and often-violent lifestyle are not mentioned here, Holyfield's brilliantly colored acrylic spreads aptly depict a larger-than-life individual. Clad in red with feather boa flying, she takes center stage whenever she appears. The horizontal shape of the book affords a wonderful view of Bessie's decorative red train; seen atop a hill, the train and the Blues Queen seem to dominate the town. Klan riders, torches blazing, extend across a subsequent spread. The book is based on a true event, "dressed up a little for dramatic effect"; Stauffacher replaces the musician who actually sounded the alarm with Emmarene and tells the story from her point of view. This tale of courage would make a fine addition to units on the Civil Rights movement.-Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A little-known episode in legendary blues singer Bessie Smith's career comes to life in this playfully fictionalized account. Emmarene Johnson is thrilled when Smith comes to Concord, N.C., for a concert, and she goes to the tent set up on the outskirts of town in the hopes of peeping in through the flap. There she sees the Night Riders gathering, torches lit and obviously up to no good. Acting on the little girl's warning, Smith confronts the hooded Klansmen and faces them down. Holyfield's bright acrylics place Emmarene right at the center, keeping the focus on her and her glamorous idol as she tells her story. There is an unresolved tension here between narration and content, as Emmarene's cheerily positive telling never admits to the stark terror the encounter would seemingly evoke. Stauffacher provides a contextualizing author's note that fleshes out the details of the actual event but also regrettably implies that the Ku Klux Klan was a phenomenon of the early 20th-century South. Given that this is likely to be many readers' first introduction to both Smith and the Klan, it is too bad that it is not more substantial. (Picture book. 5-8)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
10.56(w) x 9.31(h) x 0.34(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

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Bessie Smith and the Night Riders 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Aleeya More than 1 year ago
This book was beautifully written. It shows the courage of Bessie Smith standing up to the KKK clan by herself. The KKK clan were trying to burn down the tent she was singing in. The men that were with her ran when they saw the KKK clan but Bessie stood her ground. This is a true story.
JessicaBJones More than 1 year ago
I am currently a librarian employed by the state of Florida and I recently saw this book added to our stacks. While I realize this book is supposed to be slightly historical, I was fairly offended by the portrail of most of the characters in the story. Since this is likely a child's first introduction to racial problems, it could be potential hate mongering. It made me feel that a child will automatically associate any white person with the Ku Klux Klan and that off the bat, everyone is going to hate the child simply for being black. Being white and from the south, I have seen my fair share of racial issues, but most of the racial problems in our country are from things like this that introduce impressionable children to hate that they don't need to know about till they are ready to understand that most people are not like the ones in the book. We have recently pulled the book from our picture book stacks because we feel that it is too violent and has too much adult content for young children. It is being moved to adult non-fiction so that adults can show it to their children at their own discretion.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Bessie Smith was called the Empress of the Blues. She had an amazing voice, so remarkable that her first recording, which was made in 1925, sold over a million copies. Quite a number for that day and time. Considering all of this, it's no wonder that a little girl would idolize her. Emmarene Johnson was just such a little girl, and when Bessie came to her hometown of Concord this particular girl simply had to see her. Emmarene had no money so she sneaked out to the edge of town where Bessie was performing, pulled back a tent flap, and couldn't believe her eyes. There was Bessie in a pink dress, waving her feather boa and singing, 'Whoa, Tillie, Take Your Time.' As it turned out, many were fortunate that Emmarene was outside the tent that night because she saw the Night Riders approaching on horseback. It was 1927 and the Ku Klux Klan was terrorizing Southern blacks and white sympathizers. Since the Klan committed most of their despicable deeds at night, their nickname was Night Riders. Nonetheless, Emmarene was terrified knowing that the Klan had come to harm Bessie. She crept inside the tent and told Bessie the Night Riders were there. Then, as Emmarene says, 'Some folks run from trouble. Not Bessie. She headed right past me and toward the opening of the tent.' This lone woman marched right up to the men on horseback to hear one shout, 'Y'all best get ready to meet your maker.' That didn't stop Bessie. First she swore, and then she told them to pick up their sheets and run. With that she started flapping her arms about, uttered one of her famous low moans, and spooked the horses. Torches started falling on the ground and the men took off. While the story is based on a true incident, author Stauffacher has dramatized it for young readers, providing a valuable lesson in courage and the ability to stand up for what is right. Highly recommended. - Gail Cooke