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Nightjohn
Cover of Nightjohn
Nightjohn
Nightjohn Series, Book 1
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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...
"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...
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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."--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.

    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    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.

    From the Paperback edition.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 4, 1993
    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.

  • School Library Journal, Starred

    "Nightjohn should be required reading (and discussing) for all middle grade and high school students."

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

Title Information+

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    Random House Children's Books
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Nightjohn Series, Book 1
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