Bruchac, Joseph. (illus. Liz Amini-Holmes). “Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story.” Chicago, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 2018.
A new book from Bruchac, author of “Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of WWII,” “Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code” is a nonfiction version for a younger set. It is a straight-forward, yet gently told narrative of the life of a boy that grew up to be a Code Talker for the Marines. We pop in and out of Chester’s (Betoli is his Navajo name) life at pivotal moments, like being taken to boarding school and helping to develop the Navajo code that helped win WWII.
The illustrations and text in the book work together to tell the facts of the stories and how the story felt to Chester. For example, crows with red eyes are present for the more traumatic trials of boarding school, and post war trauma. Some references to Navajo culture and tradition are woven into the story, which only adds to the richness of the narrative. For example, Bruchac shows us the passage of time with a month and year at the start of each section, along with the Navajo months (ex. December 1941: Month of Crusted Snow).
An important theme throughout the story is Chester’s ability and determination to continue living the Navajo way – remembering his culture, values, and language. Although he learned English and saw the value in the subjects he studied at school, staying true to his heritage saw Chester through the difficulties of his youth, WWII, and his recovery from the horrible trauma of war.
Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code is a must-buy for any elementary school library. It is a beautiful example of non-fiction that will appeal to upper elementary. It also fits the bill for those creating a collection to appeal to a diverse group of students. With the Author’s Note, a portion of the Navajo Code, and a timeline in the back, it will also be a good choice for student research.
Dewey: 940.54 Interest Level: 3-6
Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal.
Older readers might like: Code Talker by Chester Nez (an adult title)
Middle school readers might like: Our Teenage Life in the Navajo Nation by Dian Bailey (Customs and Cultures of the World).
Fiction paring: Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac
On the Web: Native Words Native Warriors from The National Museum of the American Indian. Code Talking is only one portion of this excellent digital exhibit from The Smithsonian. https://americanindian.si.edu/static/education/codetalkers/html/chapter4.html
On the Web: Find video interviews of code talkers at NavajoCode at https://navajocodetalkers.org/keith-little-real-code-talker-interview/.
Film: True Whispers: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers (2002). PBS Home Video. $19.99 from https://shop.pbs.org/true-whispers-the-story-of-the-navajo-code-talkers-dvd/product/TWSN601?productId=2899773