"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." -- Nightjohn "I didn't know what letters was, not what they meant, but I thought it might be something I wanted to know. To learn." -- Sarny Sarny, a female slave at the Waller plantation, first sees Nightjohn when he is brought there with a rope around his neck, his body covered in scars. He had escaped north to freedom, but he came back--came back to teach reading. Knowing that the penalty for reading is dismemberment Nightjohn still retumed to slavery to teach others how to read. And twelve-year-old Sarny is willing to take the risk to learn. Set in the 1850s, Gary Paulsen's groundbreaking new novel is unlike anything else the award-winning author has written. It is a meticulously researched, historically accurate, and artistically crafted portrayal of a grim time in our nation's past, brought to light through the personal history of two unforgettable characters.
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Based on this paragraph, we can infer that Clel Waller ____________________.
Sarny, the narrator of the story, is a 12 year-old slave girl on Waller's plantation. This image is from the 1996 film Nightjohn. (This annotation contains an image)
The Micks is the system Mammy uses to keep track of the children's ages. Each child has a stick and every year, in the summer, she cuts a notch in the stick. The Micks might look similar to this. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this detail reveal about Sarny?
This story is written in Black Vernacular. Black Vernacular is often spoken by African Americans in urban and southern regions of the country. It is also known as African American Vernacular English. The use of the word "missus" for Mrs. Waller is one example.
What does Sarny learn about money from Mammy?
What does this detail reveal about Mammy's desire to pray?
Nightjohn movie image (This annotation contains an image)
When slaves are brought in good, or not so bad, they arrive _________________.
A trough is a long, narrow container, open on top, for feeding or watering animals. The slaves in the quarters eat a morning and evening meal from these troughs. This method of feeding is one way slaves are dehumanized by their master. It puts them (the slaves) on the same level as animals who also eat from a trough.
Sarny describes Nightjohn's back as 'all over scars from old whippings.' She wonders why Waller purchased a slave with all of these marks. Why is it unusual for a slave master to purchase a "marked" slave?
A calabash gourd that has been cut in half. This would make a good dipper like the one Sarny describes in the story. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this detail reveal about the treatment of the slaves?
According to Sarny, you keep things ____________________.
Imagery is used here to help the reader "hear" Nightjohn's laugh. The simile, "sounded like a low wind through willows," also helps the reader understand the softness of Nightjohn's voice.
What does Sarny know about reading?
Why does Mammy hit her for writing in the dirt?
What is Mammy's warning to Sarny about reading and writing? Cite textual evidence to support your answer.
Sarny's introduction to the letter A. (This annotation contains an image)
Why do the white people NOT want the slaves to learn to read or write?
Addled means unable to think clearly; confused.
What effect does being forced to be a breeder have on Alice?
What can you infer is the reason Alice tries to push Mammy's hand away while she cleans her back?
Notice the reason Sarny says it is wrong to run. The reason is nobody ever gets away. If you run, you always get caught.
What happens to Alice as a result of her trying to run away?
Why does Mammy hit John?
The use of the simile here helps the reader understand that Mammy is mad.
The first time John ran and escaped slavery, which direction did he run?
Which of the following is NOT a sound you hear in the quarters at night?
A gaggle is any group or gathering of related things; bunch.
Why does John say the children need to learn reading and writing? Cite textual evidence to support your answer.
The details describing the exhaustion of the field workers suggest that_____________________.
Describe Sarny's excitement over writing her first word.
The author uses the metaphor "pale white maggot ugly" to reveal the ugliness of Waller. In addition, maggots are disgusting creatures. Waller is a disgusting creature, not only in the way he looks, but he also smells bad.
What does this detail reveal about Mammy?
Sarny notices that Waller does not have a whip. What do you think he will do to Mammy instead of whipping her?
The men look at the ground instead of looking at Mammy because she is naked. What can you infer about the men based on their actions?
The use of imagery helps the reader visualize the whip and how it moves in Waller's hand.
Who confesses to teaching Sarny the letters?
What reason does Waller give for NOT allowing the slaves to read? What does he say is the punishment for a slave who learns to read?
An extremity is defined as a hand or foot. It can also relate to fingers and toes.
Mammy is more concerned about her nakedness before ____________ than she is her injuries.
One meaning of swooned is "to faint or lose consciousness."
Addled means confused or mixed up. Mammy could have also asked John, "Are you crazy?" Why do you think she asks him this question?
Why does John need lard and pepper?
What does Sarny mean by saying "he left me hanging?"
Beginning here, notice the passage of time. Summer ends. Fall comes and goes. Then winter comes.
Why does John whistle like a catbird?
John tells Sarny to help him teach the other students letters because_______________.
Do you recall Mammy's warning earlier in the story? She tells John not to teach her to read because it will cause her grief. Why does Sarny experience grief when she looks through the catalog?
Notice that this chapter has a title. What effect does adding a title have on the reader?
Because Nightjohn came into Sarny's life, her future is ___________________.