Review by Tom Lonetti
Ned Begay, the narrator of the story is a proud member of the Navajo Tribe. The telling begins with Ned surrounded by his grandchildren. It starts with Ned’s earliest memories growing up on the Dine – Navajo land in Southwest United States. Then he traces his time through Boarding Schools, which ultimately led him to the Marines and becoming a Code Talker in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Code Talkers took Bruchac about 20 years to write and offers a fictionalized account of the Navajo contribution to the war that wasn’t acknowledged until 1969. The book represents cultural difference in the most profound way, as that between; life and death. Growing up, Ned, was continuously told that nothing Navajo contained any value. From when he was six until he was sixteen, his culture and beliefs were shamed and ridiculed as useless. Enter World War II. Suddenly Navajo language speakers – the defining aspect of a people’s culture – are needed to assist the United States defeat Japan. Ned and hundreds of others invent an unbreakable code that was used throughout the Pacific Theater. The use of this code allowed messages to be sent and decoded in minutes, instead of hours – saving an untold amount of lives. This book explores relationships between whites and Navajos and how perceptions changed during battles; how the white people began to appreciate the Navajos and their skills. It also shows the hardship that Navajo Indians endured upon return from the war. Still, Ned’s hope in humanity endures. “Never forget, grandchildren, that we must always see all other people as human beings, worthy of respect.” This is an engaging read about an episode of Native history that deserves to be better known and a productive text to use in middle school English Language Arts classrooms.
by Joseph Bruchac
Thomas Lonetti, PhD student in Literacy Education.