Nightjohn

Nightjohn

4.2 45
by Gary Paulsen
     
 

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"To know things, for us to know things, is bad for them. We get to wanting and when we get to wanting it's bad for them. They thinks we want what they got . . . . That's why they don't want us reading." —Nightjohn

"I didn't know what letters was, not what they meant, but I thought it might be something I wanted to know. To learn."

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Overview

"To know things, for us to know things, is bad for them. We get to wanting and when we get to wanting it's bad for them. They thinks we want what they got . . . . That's why they don't want us reading." —Nightjohn

"I didn't know what letters was, not what they meant, but I thought it might be something I wanted to know. To learn." — Sarny

Sarny, a female slave at the Waller plantation, first sees Nightjohn when he is brought there with a rope around his neck, his body covered in scars.

He had escaped north to freedom, but he came back—came back to teach reading. Knowing that the penalty for reading is dismemberment Nightjohn still retumed to slavery to teach others how to read. And twelve-year-old Sarny is willing to take the risk to learn.

Set in the 1850s, Gary Paulsen's groundbreaking new novel is unlike anything else the award-winning author has written. It is a meticulously researched, historically accurate, and artistically crafted portrayal of a grim time in our nation's past, brought to light through the personal history of two unforgettable characters.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Nightjohn should be required reading (and discussing) for all middle grade and high school students."
School Library Journal, Starred

"Among the most powerful of Paulsen's works, this impeccable researched novel sheds light on cruel truths in American history as it traces the experiences of a 12-year-old slave girl in the 1850s."
Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Paulsen is at his best here."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred

An ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Among the most powerful of Paulsen's works ( Hatchet ; The Winter Room ; Dogsong ), this impeccably researched novel sheds light on cruel truths in American history as it traces the experiences of a 12-year-old slave girl in the 1850s. Narrator Sarny exposes the abuse (routine beatings, bondage, dog attacks, forced "breeding'') suffered by her people on the Waller plantation. The punishment for learning to read and write, she knows, is a bloody one, but when new slave Nightjohn offers to teach her the alphabet, Sarny readily agrees. Her decision causes pain for others as well as for herself, yet, inspired by the bravery of Nightjohn, who has given up a chance for freedom in order to educate slaves, Sarny continues her studies. Convincingly written in dialect, this graphic depiction of slavery evokes shame for this country's forefathers and sorrow for the victims of their inhumanity. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Sammy, a young slave girl, tells the story of Nightjohn, an escaped slave who returned to the South to teach other slaves to read and write despite the terrible penalty to him if caught. The plantation slave master is cruel, and the story describes violence in somewhat graphic detail. The story may raise more issues than it explains. It is, however, based on real events.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Paulsen tells the story of Sarny, a twelve-year-old slave who desperately wants to learn to read and Moss, the adult who would face dismemberment in order to teach her. Encourage students to write diary entries from the perspective of either Moss or Sarny. Other students can respond from the viewpoints of Moss' father or NightJohn. Taking on the personae of these characters will not only develop your young writers' voices, but will also immerse them in history from a first-hand point of view.
Hazel Rochman
In this story Paulsen exposes two popular lies about slavery: that slaves were really content, well cared for, ignorant, and childlike, happily singing on the old plantation, and that brave, resourceful slaves escaped all the time and it was easy. He tells the story in the voice of 12-year-old Sarny, born a slave, the property of Clel Waller, whom Sarny and the other slaves are forced to call "master." Sarny's mother had been sold when the child was four "because she was a good breeder, and Waller he needed the money." In quiet, simple words, Sarny tells of daily atrocity: public whippings, unbroken labor, animal-like living conditions, and, for a woman, constant rape. Sarny tries to keep secret the fact that she's started menstruating, because it means she will be sent to the breeding shed. The conditions are historically accurate, but the question arises--as with books about the Holocaust--How do you write about such cruelty and suffering? Paulsen uses no rhetoric, but some of the gruesome scenes of dismemberment and the close-ups of beatings given nude slaves sensationalize the violence. What gives the story transcendence is the character Nightjohn, who fires Sarny with hope. He once escaped north to freedom, and now he's come back to teach slaves what is fiercely forbidden them--reading. When he's caught showing Sarny the alphabet, two of his toes are cut off, but he escapes again. A final nighttime scene of Sarny with a group of slaves in a secret underground pit school is lit with the courage of the human spirit.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780440219361
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
01/28/1995
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
112
Sales rank:
166,158
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.32(d)
Lexile:
770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

An Excerpt from Nightjohn

Listen to Gary Paulsen read this excerpt from Nightjohn. The file is in RealAudio format and the playing time is 1:22. To listen to it, you need to download the RealAudio Player,
available for free at www.realaudio.com.)

A

"Tonight we just do A." He sat back on his heels and pointed. "There it be."

I looked at it, wondered how it stood. "Where's the bottom to it?"

"There it stands on two feet, just like you."

"What does it mean?"

"It means A—just like I said. It's the first letter in the alphabet.
And when you see it you make a sound like this: ayyy, or ahhhh."

"That's reading? To make that sound?"

He nodded. "When you see that letter on paper or a sack or in the dirt you make one of those sounds. That's reading."

"Well that ain't hard at all."

He laughed. That same low roll. Made me think of thunder long ways off,
moving in the summer sky. "There's more to it. Other letters. But that's it."

"Why they be cutting our thumbs off if we learn to read—if that's all there is?"

"'Cause to know things, for us to know things, is bad for them. We get to wanting and when we get to wanting it's bad for them. They thinks we want what they got."

I thought of what they had. Fine clothes and food. I heard one of house workers say they ate off plates and had forks and spoons and knives....
"That's true—I want it."

"That's why they don't want us reading." He sighed. "I got to rest now...."

He moved back to the corner and settled down and I curled up to mammy in amongst the young ones again.

A, I though. Ayyy, ahhhh. There it is. I be reading.

"Hey there in the corner," I whispered.

"What?"

"What's your name?"

"I be John."

"I be Sarny."

But I didn't I snuggled into mammy and pulled a couple of the young ones in for heat and kept my eyes open so I wouldn't sleep and thought:

A.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Nightjohn should be required reading (and discussing) for all middle grade and high school students."
School Library Journal, Starred

"Among the most powerful of Paulsen's works, this impeccable researched novel sheds light on cruel truths in American history as it traces the experiences of a 12-year-old slave girl in the 1850s."
Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Paulsen is at his best here."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred

An ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults

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