Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story

Joseph Bruchac, illus. by Liz Amini-Holmes. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-0007-1
Bruchac begins this powerful story of Chester Nez (born Betoli) as he is taken by missionaries from the Navajo reservation to boarding school: “Chester knew he might need to live in the white man’s world one day. In that world speaking English was essential, so he worked hard and did well.” In 1942, Marine Corps recruiters seek speakers of English and Navajo; Bruchac clearly explains the need for a code that could not be broken by the Japanese, while lightly underscoring the irony of Chester’s circumstances: “Suddenly the language he had been told to forget was important.” Bruchac movingly draws a parallel between the trauma of indigenous boarding schools and war. Amini-Holmes’s paintings capture the nightmarish atmosphere of both: at school, Nez’s terror is embodied by red-eyed crows that fly away with locks of his sheared hair, while in his postwar dreams, birds morph into sharks resembling dive bombers. Back matter explores the recognition that code talkers received years after their service, and includes a portion of the Navajo code. Ages 7–9. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2018
Release date: 04/01/2018
Genre: Children's
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