Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Bruchac, Joseph (Author)
Penguin Random House 2006. 232 pages
First published: 2005
ISBN: 9780142405963 (paperback)
9780803729216 (hardcover)
9781101664803 (e-book)
Original language: English
Book type: Novel
Book genre: Historical

Text Elements:

conflict, dialogue, point of view, setting

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

Ned Begay is the protagonist of this WWII novel which touches on many of the tropes of military literature—a young boy enlists though he’s only 16, joins an elite Marine unit and makes an impression with his bravery and speed. Begay is Navajo, and his corps is a top-secret group of “code talkers” recruited to relay messages encrypted in Navajo. While much of the novel is couched in history—the code talkers are present at Iwo Jima—and is indeed drawn from true events, Begay’s personal accounts of racism and assimilation are among the most memorable. When the children at school use Navajo, for example, they have their mouths washed out roughly with soap, the enforcement of the mission school motto that “tradition is the enemy of progress.”

The first-person narrative explores factual events through the lens of fiction and is structured around a central flashback—Begay is telling his grandchildren about the war—yet his recollections are so vivid and immediate that readers are drawn right into the 1940s. The relevant dates and military terminology are fairly accessible, and the Navajo unit’s code is ably integrated: “Abí zi’aah. That means ‘pick ‘em off.’ It was our code word for sniper. Just saying it made me want to duck my head down.”

An author’s note ends the book, providing historical, geographical and ethnographic information on the Navajo, detailing the factual existence of the code talkers unit he aims to honour in the novel, and discussing cultural erasure and language preservation. A selected bibliography provides suggestions for further readings.

  •  Become familiar with online and other information about the Navajo code talkers such as Chester Nez in order to gain an understanding of this particular facet of American history.
  •  

    In small groups, discuss the similarities between the experiences of the Navajo people and those of First Nations people in Canada.

  •  

    Research the military contributions of other Indigenous groups in Canada and the United States. Use the research to produce an article that seeks to inform readers.

  •  

    Use resources to find out about the Navajo and the historical event called the “Long Walk.” Discuss your findings in a small group. Should the Navajo assist the American government after what happened during the Long Walk?

  •  Draw a T-chart with “friend” and “enemy” as the categories. While you read, place the names (or descriptions) of the people Ned encounters in the correct column, based on how they treat him and his perception of them.
  •  

    Create a 30-second video trailer promoting the book. Be sure to include scenes from Ned’s time as a child with his family, at the residential English school, during training with the Marines and during the war in Japan.

  • To communicate appropriately
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Personal Development
  • Social Sciences