They Don't Want Us Reading


Gary Paulsen

"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

From The Literary Apothecary
Set in the 1850s,  the narrator is a young female slave named Sarny. She meets Nightjohn when he is brought to the plantation. A runaway slave who went North to freedom, he risked his freedom to return and teach slaves how to read. With what began as a bartering arrangement, Sarny began to learn the letters of alphabet. In her excitement she leaves a new word spelled out, resulting in John being punished. 

The story unfolds nicely, though it is ends in a way not expected.  As an black woman and mother, I was not happy with the ending. Nonetheless, it teaches a valuable lesson and shows the importance and sanctity of reading. 

  1. Sacredness of being able to read
  2. Placing one's life on the line for the future of another

The Literary Apothecary recommends this for
  1. Young black children and adults who need to grasp how sacred reading is
  2. Those who are pursuing a vocation that places them in dangerous place

Side Effects
  1. Immense desire to teach others to read and write
  2. Desire to read more and not take for granted one's ability to do so