Read-aloud Recommendation: Night Journeys
Night Journeys by Avi is a middle-grade historical fiction novel that packs a lot of story and heart into its 143 pages. It takes place in 1768, just before the American Revolution, and follows 12-year-old Peter York through several struggles. We are introduced to an orphaned Peter who is adopted by Mister Shinn, the patriarch of a Quaker family in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Peter clashes with Mister Shinn’s Quaker sensibilities. When he is enlisted to help hunt down two runaway indentured servants, Peter thinks the reward money will help buy him some freedom and prove himself a man, but he must make some hard decisions when one of the runaways falls into his lap. It’s not what he expected.
Avi writes with simplicity and grace with a good use of metaphor. Peter comes across as sympathetic but ungrateful, and we want to see him both succeed and learn a lesson. In the end, he does both in a powerful denouement. This is the perfect novel to start some interesting conversations. Is it ever okay to break the law? Was indentured servitude a just punishment?
A worthy read, especially given its short length.
Learning and Discussion Topics:
Value of money
How much could you buy for 12 pounds?
Is Peter right to like Mr. Toliver?
Is Mr. Shinn right to pray that the runaways escape while it’s his duty to help capture them?
Why was the sight of a girl a balm to Peter? Why did he feel superior? Should he have?
Was Peter’s idea to float on a log a good one?
Why didn’t Peter want to fire a shot to signal the others?
Why is Peter angry at Mr. Shinn for asking him to go on the search party?
How did Mr. Shinn know what Peter was doing?
Was Peter really right, as Mr. Shinn says?
How does Peter’s and Mr. Shinn’s relationship change?
Disclaimer: When I post discussion topics and vocabulary, it is not an attempt to redeem your reading time. Spending time reading to your kids is never a waste of time, even if you all just sit back and enjoy the story.
But if you want to get more mileage out of the book, or you are looking for a book to touch on some of these topics in an engaging way, these can be helpful.
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