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.
Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen tells how Nightjohn goes back to the south after he becomes free to teach people how to read and write. He knows how important education is, and how it can liberate people from slavery. Nightjohn understands that knowledge is power, and knows that no one can take your knowledge away from you. When Sarny asks why reading is so wrong, Nightjohn replies, “’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.” He understands that this wanting can lead people to take action, to learn to find a better way of life for them and their families.
This is a sweet story, based on real events of a slave girl’s life. Some of the scenes are graphic–I’m always appalled when I read of the treatment of the black people in the south.