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Nightjohn Hardcover – January 1, 1993

4.3 out of 5 stars 118 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Imagine being beaten for learning to read, shackled and whipped for learning a few letters of the alphabet. Now, imagine a man brave enough to risk torture in order to teach others how to read; his name is Nightjohn, and he sneaks into the slave camps at night to teach other slaves how to read and write. Celebrated author Gary Paulsen writes a searing meditation on why the ability to read and write is radical, empowering , and so necessary to our freedom. These skills threaten our oppressors because they allow us to communicate--to learn the real status of our slavery and to seek liberation. In this tightly written, painful, joyous little novel is a key that may unlock the power of reading for even the most reluctant teens. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (January 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385308388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385308380
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,882,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 29, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This story is an intense and graphic account of the brutal conditions endured by slaves. The "Master" exerted extreme control over all facets of the slaves' lives, including eating, sleeping, and reproduction. Horrific punishments were dealt out to those who violated any of the rules. I found this short book moving and affecting, illuminating the inhuman conditions the slaves endured.
However, this book was assigned to my 10-year old son as summer reading. This book is grossly inappropriate for children. Despite its brevity, this book is way too intense for children, dealing with a topic that is better suited to high school.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Reading - what does it mean to you? Many adore that word, and those people happen to be bookworms. But some detest that word, considering that reading is boring. Many people take reading for granted. But for an enslaved person, the ability to read is very powerful.
"Nightjohn" is the tale of a young, female, black slave who learned how to read, and the man who dared break the rules to teach it. Sarny is a curious, little girl, a slave from birth, who resides in the plantation of Mr. Waller during the Civil War. For her, life is the same, until a mysterious black man named John teaches her something new, the ability to read and write. Though the rules forbid that a slave should learn that, Sarney and John risk everything to learn and teach one of man's most powerful tactics.
"Nightjohn" - an inspiring tale set during a time of despair and suffering, when the Civil War tore a nation apart, when people sorrowfully leave their families to do what they believed was right. It was a time when slavery existed, and suffering slaves risk their lives to seek freedom.
Short and fast-moving (only 90 pages), "Nightjohn" has an important message. Many people can learn from this story. It teaches that words are the most powerful weapon that can be used against injustice and corruption. The book acuratelly portrays the cruel and violent life of a slave during 1800s America, and the despairs and hopes they kept during a horrible time. "Nightjohn" will convince you that slavery should never have existed!
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Format: Hardcover
What a great book! I disagree with the reviews above when they say that the violence is redundant and excessive. Truth is, life was really like that on the plantation. The reader is almost transported back in time. This book is a good contrast to many history books that tend to downplay the intense cruelty inflicted on southern slaves. My recommendation? Take this book with you to Williamsburg, VA and ask the tour guides questions about it as they tell you how "well treated" the slaves were.
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By Bergen on February 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Iam a big Gary Paulsen fan. Im trying to read all of his books. I started reading Hatchet in 5th grade. Ive read, about 5 of his books, and soon found out that he has a wide selection of more books. I just finished "NightJohn". I thought this book was very well written. I understood it very well. But I do recommened something before you read this book. I am an 8th grader, and I have just finished studying in my History class about the Civil War , and slavery, and I recommened that you should learn alittle about the Civil War, and slavery before you read this book. Because you wouldn`t understand it if you didn`t know about. I liked this book alot. The semi- part life time tale of Sarny. Sarny is a young black slave who is born into a plantation in the South. She tells the story in a very "horrific" way I think. She tells of her "master" and how badly they are treaten. I gave this book 5 stars for its well written contents. I almost was going to give it 4 stars because of the continual cursing. But by all means, this is a great book , and I would buy it again.
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A Kid's Review on February 23, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I think you nshould read Night John by Gary Paulsen because this book is about slavery. Personally, I like the part with the quarters because the slaves make a lamp from pork fat and a bowl that was pretty cool. Also in the book, the slaves have a lot of rules like they can not have any lights on, no praying, reading, and no writing. As well, there are punishments too. If you read or write you will get your thumb or toes cut off or smashed off. If you pray and have a light on you will probably get yelled at or whipped.

You should read Night John because it is about slaves. For instance, the things we did to them. Like we cut off body parts, killed them, whipped them, and chased them. I think that is not right and not nice.

Also, I did not know some of the things they did like chasing them with dogs and cutting off body parts if they read or if they wrote. Also, there is something I know, like they whipped them. When you read this book you can learn more about slaves and what they did to them.

Did you know it was against the law for slaves to read because if the slaves read then they will want to run their lives and try to escape. In other words, I am glad they can read now and run their lives because they only have one.

This book is very interesting. It is a good book so yo should read it. Also, you should read it because there is lot of parts that are about slaves. There are funny parts and sad parts. Also, gross parts (if you like that). That is why you should read Night John!
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