Night Journeys by Avi is a story, set in 1768, of a teenage orphan named Peter York who lives with Everett Shinn and his family in Pennsylvania. Mr. Shinn is the leader of the Quaker Community and the local Justice of the Peace. Peter, who has been promised by the Shinn family to be treated well in exchange for his horse, Jumper, and hard work on their farm, is presented with what he refers to as a great crisis. The details of this crisis are revealed as Peter becomes deeply involved in a manhunt for two escaped bondsmen, better known as indentured servants.
Although only 12 years old, Peter volunteers to participate in the search for the escaped servants and finds himself facing physical perils as he and Mr. Shinn become separated during the search. Peter inadvertently finds one of the escapees, who just happens to be an 11 year old girl. After Peter shoots the girl, rather by accident, he finds himself torn between his moral obligation to abide by the law and return with the girl, which would yield a reward and allow Mr. Shinn to purchase a new horse and return Jumper, and following his conscience, which tells him to provide food and help the girl escape.
After making a rushed promised to help the girl escape to freedom, Peter learns that the second servant has been found and is being held prisoner at the Shinn family farm. Peter has already promised one of the servants that he would help, so how, he wonders, can he turn his back on her accomplice.
Is it right to help two convicted felons escape, when doing so will incriminate him and bring shame to the Shinn family, or should he turn in the girl and have both of these servants be returned to their “Master”? Peter takes action and decides to help both prisoners escape to freedom after much reflection and a realization that he too is imprisoned to the Shinn family, albeit in a less obvious manner than the two bondsmen.
As the story comes to a close, Mr. Shinn knowingly helps as Peter escapes with the servants to freedom. And as with any great story, there is a pleasant twist at the end where Peter returns to the farm, having given Jumper to the servants, and Mr. Shinn acknowledges that Peter, the 12 year old child, has done what he, the elder moral leader of the community, was not able to do. A bond between the two is firmly established and Peter returns to the Shinn farm, not as a prisoner, but as a member of the family.
Night Journeys can serve as a great read aloud for an upper elementary class that is studying character education. With a relatively simply plot, and easily identifiable moral knowing and feeling conflicts, this book can be used to demonstrate how Peter, a likeable 12 year old, acts in a way that exemplifies his morals, showcases his personal values and otherwise focuses on character education. Teaching points related to various aspects of character education are easily created to align with the use of this book as a class read aloud.