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Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen
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Nightjohn (1996)

by Gary Paulsen

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John is a returned slave who begins to teach Sarny the letters of the alphabet, which is illegal however, it is a risk she is willing to take. After John escapes for a second time he returns to take Sarny away from the plantation. I liked this book because it gave you a look into pre-Civil war life told from a slaves' perspective. I think it is important that students learn about historical periods such as the time of slavery from different perspectives as books can provide a bias view. I would deem this book appropriate for children who are in 4th grade and up.
  SaraJoslin | Nov 15, 2014 |
This was one of my favorite chapter books we read all semester. My favorite part of the book is the imagery the author created throughout the chapter book. I had vivid images throughout my reading. Some of the most gruesome events in the book had the best imagery associated with them. I could sense NightJohn’s pain as he was getting his toe cut off for trying to teacher another slave how to read. The author evoked all the reader’s senses in his writing. The next aspect of the book I liked was the author’s writing style. The book was written in a language that was authentic to the time period and authentic as to how people spoke during this time. They introduced themselves by saying “I be John,” “I be Sarny.” At first a reader may have difficultly getting accustomed to the way the characters speak but it adds authenticity and gives the reader a sense of how they spoke during this time period. Finally, I loved the characters in the book. The characters gave the reader someone to relate to and gave the reader an opportunity to “look through a window.” The reader can see another perspective on the importance of education that is something that many readers take for granted. In addition, the reader is forced to think about a life that is different from their own and they are forced to have a greater appreciation for their opportunity’s and freedoms. The big idea/message of this story is the importance of education, selflessness, and freedom. ( )
  EmilyBeer | Nov 11, 2014 |
In the time of slavery things were awful. I don’t think we realize just how awful they actually were. Then you come across a book Like Nightjohn that takes you into that world and opens your eyes to the real horrors of how people were treated during slavery. This was a hard book to read but it was also are great book that teaches a lot. I really liked this book for a couple of reasons. One reason I really liked it was because of the language it was written in. It really made you feel like you were in that time period. Another reason I liked it was for the story it told and how it made the reader think about a really tough concept and what it must have been like to be a slave.
While the language that this book is written in is a little tough to get use to at first, as you get use to it, it really added to the reader’s experience. The book is written just like slaves would talk in that time period. This kind of language helped to send you back in time and immerse you in to the story. For example “I didn't know what letters was, not what they meant, but I thought it might be something I wanted to know. To learn.” Having this kind of language help show the reader that slaves did not get to go to school or learn how to read and write. It brings an authenticity to the story.
The actual story this book tells is powerful and moving. The story follows young Sarny, who deals with being a slave. Then one day a new slave is brought onto the plantation. She learned his name is Nightjohn. Soon after he arrived he started teaching her letters and how to makes the sounds to read them. But the most interesting thing that she learned was that Nightjohn learned to read because he was once a free salve. A man who was once free from slavery put himself back into the horrors of it to help teach reading and writing to slaves showed amazing character. As the story continued, Sarny started to learn to write and was caught and punished for her actions because, “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." It was in the events that follow you really learned just how tortuous it was to be a slave. This is why this story pushes you to think about tough issues. It really made you think about and even showed you what it would have been like to be a slave. It made you ask questions like: Why did this happen? What would I do in that situation? How could people do this to other human beings? It makes you think about racism and all the problem and issues with it. This book packs a punch that I will not soon forget.
Nightjohn sends a powerful message it teaches us the value of learning and the doors it can open to know how to read and write. But more importantly it gives us a glimpse in to a dark time in American history a time that will not be forgotten. ( )
  AlexWyatt | Nov 10, 2014 |
"Nightjohn" is the story of a young girl Sarny who is a slave on the Waller Plantation. Sarny's experience as a slave completely turns when John comes to her plantation. One night when John was begging for tobacco, Sarny trades the tobacco she has in exchange for three letters: A, B, and C. Regardless of the many warnings Sarny receives, she continues to trade with John in an effort to learn to read and write. With the excitement of knowledge filling her, Sarny writes her very first word all over the plantation, remembering to wipe it out of course. However, the master sees her writing and immediately knows someone has been teaching her to read and write. Finally, John confesses and his two toes are cut off. Instead of giving up, courageous John runs away and only returns in the night to take Sarny and many other brave slaves to "school" where they continue learning to read and write.

I liked this story, because the writing was very true to the time period. The setting took place on a plantation during the period of slavery, and story took the point of view of a young, uneducated slave. The writing and dialogue stayed very true to this period and language of this character. For example, Sarny says "don't know nothing about writing" when the master catches her writing her first word in the dirt. This dialogue really makes the reader feel as if the story is actually happening in front of them as this situation would occur in real life.

Also, I really liked this book, because of brave and courageous characters in the story. Sarny is warned multiple times of the consequences of learning to read. Mammy says, "Child, they'll cut your thumbs off if you learn to read" (p.54). But regardless, Sarny wants the knowledge and power of reading and writing, so she continues to learn. Also, John gets caught teaching Sarny and even loses his toes for it. But still, John comes back in the middle of night for Sarny, "School-we got to go to school. Don't you want to learn the rest of the letters?" (p.85). Along with the true language and courageous characters, the story has a powerful big message of taking a stand against segregation and displaying the power of education, words, and writing. There's only one way to inform the world of the experiences they have been through as slaves: telling the world through writing. ( )
  KendraEscalona | Nov 10, 2014 |
This book is about a young slave girl named Sarny. A slave named Nightjohn is brought to the plantation. He begins to teach Sarny how to read and write. The problem is that slaves are not supposed to learn/know how to read and write, so it is a dangerous lesson. I liked this book. I think it would appeal to children because Sarny is close in age to them, if not slightly older. It would be a good way for them to connect to children that were slaves and learn more about how slavery worked. I think I would use this with older children, maybe late in the year for 3rd graders at the earliest. I think it has some intense parts, and I would want think about how my students would react to those. I would use it in a unit on the Civil War and Slavery.
  JeniseRedding | Nov 9, 2014 |
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Questo libro è dedicato alla memoria di Sally Hemings, comperata, allevata e in seguito usata da Thomas Jefferson, terzo Presidente degli Stati Uniti, senza che mai potesse permettersi un solo respiro da donna libera.
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Questa è una storia su John della notte.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440219361, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:38 -0400)

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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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