An Excerpt from Nightjohn
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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
"'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 and had 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:
A.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Nightjohn byGary Paulsen
. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers,
a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt
may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.