Nightjohn

( 44 )

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 ...

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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.

Twelve-year-old Sarny's brutal life as a slave becomes even more dangerous when a newly arrived slave offers to teach her how to read.

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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: 1/28/1995
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 86,459
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 770L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen is one of the most honored writers of contemporary literature for young readers. He has written more than one hundred book for adults and young readers, and is the author of three Newbery Honor titles: Dogsong, Hatchet, and The Winter Room. He divides his time among Alaska, New Mexico, Minnesota, and the Pacific.

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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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 44 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(23)

4 Star

(15)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

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1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Nightjohn

    Paulsen, G. (1993). Nightjohn. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young
    Readers.

    0440219361

    Told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Sarny, the historical Nightjohn shares the trials of the slaves on the Waller plantation. Sarny, a quiet outsider who can't even remember her mother who was sold while Sarny was still young, is the first to notice Clel Waller's newest slave, a heavily scarred tall man named John. Sarny learns that John had escaped to freedom previously, but willingly returned to The South to teach slaves, to teach Sarny how to read and write.

    Sarny tells of the horrible abuses some of the other slaves have had to endure on the plantation. This book would undoubtedly provoke emotional reactions. A teacher will have to be prepared to help students manage the experience of reading this book. The only white person shown to any extent in the story is Clel Waller and his maltreatment of the slaves as well as the fact that Sarny's descriptions of him usually include the word 'maggot' may mean that a teacher will have to remind students that while Waller is the most evil piece of snot to learn to speak and hold a whip, other white people worked tirelessly for the slaves' education and liberation. And others did nothing.

    There is a sequel called Sarny. I'll admit I haven't read it yet. Have any of you read it, my dear but few readers? What were your thoughts?

    On a much lighter note, did you know that Paulsen has written over 130 books? For reals. The majority of stories involve nature, animals, nature, eating uncooked things, nature, being attacked by wild animals, dogs, the artistic drive, nature, kids surviving in nature, more dogs, his own experiences in nature, etc. So seeing him go historical on his readers was a fresh slant.
    While I have great respect for him and his work, do you think, just maybe, Paulsen could leave a few ideas and pieces of paper for the rest of us to publish with? Pretty please.


    Activities to do with the book:

    Since this story shows characters desperate to learn to read and write, this book would be wonderful for struggling readers to show them the historical significance of literacy as empowerment.

    Teachers could urge students to do reflective journal writing in response to the book. The book could be paired with lessons on history or could trigger discussions on morality.

    Since the end of the book does leave the reader with some hope, but lacks an actual conclusion, students could write their own endings to the novel.


    Favorite Quotes

    "This is a story about Nightjohn. I guess in some ways it is a story about me just as much because I am in it and I know what happened and some of it happened to me but it still seems to be about him" (p. 13).

    "You ran and got away?" mammy asked.
    "I did."
    "You ran until you were clean away?"
    "I did."
    "And you came back?"
    "I did."
    "Why?"
    He sighed and it sounded like his voice, like his laugh. Low and way off thunder. It made me think he was going to promise something, the way thunder promises rain. "For this."
    "What you mean-this?"
    "To teach reading" (p. 55).

    FOR MORE OF MY REVIEWS, VISIT sjkessel.blogspot.com.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2006

    Nightjohn a Heroic Slave

    Whip! Whip! This is what Sarny heard when she watched her good friend being tortured. She felt very terrible because she was what caused his whipping. Later that night she saw the after effects of a harsh whipping. This amazing story of a little slave girl who learns how to read is called Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen. The book is about a plantation in the deep south during the 1700¿s. Sarny, a little girl who learns how to read from Nightjohn a middle aged slave who has once escaped to the north. At the beginning of the book it shows how slave life is bad and explains Sarny¿s life. She lives with a women who¿s not her mother but takes care of her. During the middle of the book Sarny meets Night John a slave who knows how to read. He starts teaching her each letter of the alphabet until the slave owner finds out Sarny know how to read. It end up that Night John gets whipped badly. A few nights later he runs away. Will Sarny learn how to read and write completely? I liked this book very much. I liked it because I learned how slave life was so hard and the realistic effect of punishment for slave bad behavior. I also like how Gary Paulsen writes Sarny¿s speech, which is hard to write because of the speech defect. The way the book ended was very well written and didn¿t give too much information or too little information. I very much liked the book Night John by Gary Paulsen. I recommend this book to many people. I recommend this book to people who are from the ages 11-14. The book tells the reader how slavery really is and someone those ages would be able to understand it. I do not recommend this book to people who are offended by slavery or children below the ages of 11. Also if you love fairy tales of happy endings I recommend this book to you. Thank you for reading this review and I hope you enjoy the book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2012

    KP-Texas

    This book was way too short. Its only 50 pages. Thats more like a short story. I was dissapoonted because I wasnt expecting it to be so short. Overall the story was excellant. I wish there was more of it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2006

    ABC

    Soft whispers were exchanged in the dead of night. A board creaked as someone made there way across the old shack . The first letters were learned and knowledge didn¿t seem so strange. In the book NightJohn by Gary Paulson a young slave girl named Sarny secretly learned how to read in the dead of night. The slave who risked his life to teach her how to read was NightJohn. Although Sarny does not get to be taught every night she is still learning at a pretty steady pace. This book takes place on the Waller¿s plantation somewhere in the south. I really enjoyed this book. I thought it had a good story line and was written very well. My first impression of the book was really good. The way it is written gets you interested. I think the author tied up the book very well. The best parts of the book is when you learn more about NightJohn. His life is very interesting. I thought this book was absolutely wonderful an I would read it again. The theme of this book is very clear. It shows that if you can work hard you can achieve what ever you want to. Also that you should always be thankful for what you have because some people may have nothing. I think this book was challenged because at some points it was gruesome and in one or two spots it was a little inappropriate. I think someone who challenged this book did not like a lot of violence and maybe did not want children to be reading it because of that. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in slavery and how slaves were treated. This book is over all a wonderful book and you should definitely take time to read it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    this is a horrible book. based on nothing more then magic this i

    this is a horrible book. based on nothing more then magic this is not a historical book try historical fiction at best blease if you are looking to read a interesting historical book on pre civil war slavery look some where else heir is no shortage.  Gary  Paulson is a terrible author who caters to the feeble minded or third graders. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2010

    This is a great book. Check it out!

    I read the book Nightjohn, illustrated by Gary Paulsen. I thought Nightjohn was a great book. Nightjohn is about a twelve year old girl named Sarny. There is a man named Waller and he thinks he is the ruler so if someone is learning to read or write or something then Waller gets his whip and the people that did those things got whipped. Waller brings in a new slave with he was naked with scars and cuts all over his back. Sarny was the first to notice him. His name was Nightjohn. Sarny's mom was sold when Sarny was littler then she is. So now Sarny has a nanny. One night when everyone had to get ready for bed, Nightjohn says," Does anyone have tobacco?" Everyone was quiet. "I'll trade." "I'll trade letters for a lip of tobacco." Nightjohn said. Sarny thinks in her head, "I have tobacco. You'll trade letters? You don't have letters." Nightjohn has Sarny get in the corner to talk. Sarny decides she wants letters. And for every letter she is taught, she gives Nightjohn a lip of tobacco. Sarny learns a couple letters. She writes them outside in the dirt because she was excited. Waller "the ruler" catches her and he asks her what she was doing, she lied. He knew she was lying. No one confesses to teaching her so her nanny gets in trouble for it. Nightjohn gets back from working in the field. Sarny explains to him about what's going on. He confesses and he gets in trouble for it. At the end, everyone knows when Nightjohn comes back to teach people and when he leaves because his punishment was that his two middle toes got cut off and you see his tracks. This is a great book by Gary Paulsen.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2009

    Great Book

    This book is about a little girl named Sarny. One day a stranger named Night John was captured and forced to work at the plantation. Sarny approached him with the intent on getting tobacco, but instead he offers to teach her how to read and write. As Sarny learns new words, she goes around writing them when she isn't supposed to. To prevent her agony Night John takes the blame.I think this is a great book. Gary Paulsen writes wonderful stories and this one backs that up. This book has a lot of graphic description in it, so I wouldn't recommend it for anyone under the age of thirteen. At the end of the story it focuses on the events that happened at the beginning of the story, and that helps you understand more.This book is historical fiction. It focuses on the period of slavery taking place in the nineteenth century. It was a great book that explains a lot of the hardships that the African Americans had to face. In all, this was a great book. If there are other books with a similar story line than I would recommend reading them as well. It teaches you what really happened while at the same time drawing you into a great story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2006

    ¿A¿ Is For Apple

    Crack! Rip! These noises you could hear through out the plantation while mammy was getting whipped. It was a horrible site, but it was often seen on the plantation. Many slaves watched as mammy winced in pain and her step-daughter couldn¿t stand to see her step-mom be harmed. In the book NightJohn by Gary Paulsen a slave girl named Sarny is taught to read. She learns in the dead of night by a man that goes by the name of NightJohn. She was very determined to learn and she learned very quickly. Every night they would sit in the corner of their ¿shack¿ and Sarny learned to read and write. NightJohn was a very clever man and he tried to get as many people to learn as he could. One day Sarny wrote the word ¿bag¿ in the dirt and her mammy got in major trouble for this since slaves were not permitted to read. One evening after everyone had went to sleep , NightJohn took Sarny to ¿school¿ with other slave children from different plantations that NightJohn had been at previously. They all learned together almost like we all do today. NightJohn by Gary Paulsen was a very interesting book. I personally thought it was one of those books where you didn¿t want to put down because you wanted to see what would happen next. It was gripping and exhilarating. Throughout the book there was many exciting and depressing parts. He gives you a mental picture like when he describes NightJohn. Gary Paulsen did an amazing job in writing this book. I recommend this book to any person that would like to understand more about how the slaves were treated during that time period. Anyone who would like to read about the up and downs of slavery. I wouldn¿t recommend this book to someone who doesn¿t like to read about violence and cruel treatment. This book was a very remarkable and powerful story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2005

    Outstanding Books for Reluctant Readers

    I teach 7th grade. My students love this book, the video (VHS), and the follow-up, Sarny. I use Nightjohn as a read aloud, then show the students the Hallmark movie. Then the students are 'hooked' on the story of this 12 year old girl and they WANT to read the follow up novel, Sarny, A Life Remembered. A great read that tells the horrors of slavery in a way that 12-14 year old readers can understand.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    What a great book!!!

    I believe this is one of the best books I have ever read! I have never before read a book in 2 hours, but I read this book in an hour and a half! I absoloutely loved it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2012

    !!!!!!

    I would like to read this book but it should be cheaper

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

    Awesome

    This is a level w for advanced readers. Like me. It is a reall great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2012

    Destini Wright

    I'm watching NightJohn the movie in class,and when mistress slapped Sarny on the cheek it felt like I got hit on the cheek.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    Awesome

    The people that wriye bad reviews are wrong this is an waesome book but it is short. I dont care because i enjoyed it, And so will you!!!!!!!
    :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2012

    Amazing story!

    Amazing stroy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2011

    Inspirational

    This book was amanzing. I imagined if that was my mother getting whipped and i cried so hard. Nightjohn is a great and loving charachter. Sarny is powerful and caring. This book was too short and should of been cheapier. Still overall good book. A little confusing near the end but you will get it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2011

    #$*@ this O

    O

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2007

    A reviewer

    This was a wonderful story, but I would have liked it even better if there would have been more to Nightjohn instead of leaving the reader hanging until Sarny.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2007

    A Reviiewer

    I really injoyed the book. My class read it in class. Now I want to find out what happed to Sarny, in the next book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2007

    NightJohn

    I thought this book was great, though it was very greusome. NighJohn plays such a outstanding and inspiration character. I didn't want to put it down. Rather than to think of it as a summer project i really enjoyed it. I recommed that anyone who is really interested in history and the life of slaves read this outstanding book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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