Friday, May 25, 2012

A harrowing tale of slavery and resilience

Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen

"They have to read and write. We all have to read and write so we can write about this -- what they doing to us. It has to be written."

This is a very short novel, with a punch. It is the story of Nightjohn, an African-American slave just before the Civil War. He escaped to freedom but returned to teach other slaves to read and to write. What he and the other victims endure is horrifying; the cruelty of the slave owners is shocking; and how people can survive under such brutal conditions is amazing.

Publishers Weekly recommends this book for ages 12 and up, but I would be careful giving this book to a sensitive 12 year old. The book covers topics such as what happens when a slave girl gets her period, mothers being separated from their children forever, beatings, and forced breeding. However, the book depicts a time in US history in an honest and compelling way and I recommend it for parents and educators who believe that their students are ready for these topics. It is likely that the book will raise many students' curiosity about slavery and the American Civil War.

Why you should consider it:
  • to learn about slavery in the United States
  • to read about intriguing characters
  • to begin a discussion about the history of human rights in America and elsewhere
Why you might hold off:
  • not every kid is ready for these heavy topics

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