by Gary Paulsen

Narrated by Michele-Denise Woods

Gary Paulsen

Unabridged — 1 hours, 29 minutes



by Gary Paulsen

Narrated by Michele-Denise Woods

Gary Paulsen

Unabridged — 1 hours, 29 minutes

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Life on the Waller plantation is harsh and bleak. Twelve-year-old Sarny knows that it won't be long before she will be forced to leave Mammy and join the other young women who serve the master's household as breeders. Then one day a new slave arrives, bought from an overseer for a thousand dollars. He comes in a bad way, walking in front of the horses and Waller's ready whip. His back is covered with scars as thick as Sarny's hand, but he holds his head high and doesn't seem to mind that everyone is watching him. Sarny doesn't know yet, but Nightjohn's arrival is about to change everything. For that very night, in exchange for a plug of tobacco, Nightjohn begins to teach Sarny the letters of the alphabet. With enough time and tobacco, she will be able to read. Sarny has gotten as far as the letter J, when Waller catches her tracing the word BAG in the dust on the road. The punishment for teaching someone to read is severe. What will happen if Waller finds out who Sarny's teacher is? Will her precious gift of learning be lost forever? Newberry honor-winner, Gary Paulsen, offers a graphically realistic and historically accurate portrayal of slave society in mid-19th century America.

Editorial Reviews

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.)

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

Product Details

BN ID: 2940170997466
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 11/15/2013
Series: Sarny Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Age Range: 8 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

An Excerpt from Nightjohn

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from Nightjohn. The file is in RealAudio format and the playing
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"Tonight we just do A." He sat back on his heels and pointed. "There it

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

"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 andhad 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'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:


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