Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

The Navajo Code Talkers

Kelley, Gary (Illustrator)
Creative Editions 2016. 32 pages
First published: 2016
ISBN: 9781568462950 (hardcover)
9781566607872 (e-book)
Original language: English
Dewey: 940.54
Book type: Picture Book

Text Elements:

figurative language, multimodal, panel arrangement, point of view, setting, stance

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:

This brief yet powerful creative non-fiction text combines elements of Navajo culture and history with a fascinating account of the Navajo’s key contribution in World War II, deploying a code based on the unwritten Navajo language, to confound notoriously effective Japanese code-breakers.

An inspired combination of cultural acknowledgement and military history informs this account. Brief text blocks, written from a Navajo perspective, serve as captions in image-rich layouts: “Civil engineer Philip Johnston, an Anglo missionary’s son who had grown up with the Navajo, thought of a way to thwart [the Japanese]: encode an entire language. You can break a code, but you must learn a language.”

The generosity and patriotism of the code talkers is shown to be even greater, given the long history of Navajo oppression by the US government: “‘They’d make you stand in front of the classroom,’ one elder recalled, ‘and tell you to stick out your tongue, then they’d whip it with a wooden ruler just for speaking our language.’”

Illustrations use strong line, subtle texture and warm colours to convey symbolically rich scenes and spot images. One image depicts a ‘photo’ portrait of a code talker in uniform, set in a Navajo-inspired design that includes an open hand and corn stalks.

A fun guessing game spread offers examples of the Navajo language and how it was used for military code. Endnotes include a list of code talkers from other Indigenous nations across the US who served during World War II. “Artist’s Notes” discusses the symbolic meaning of certain illustrations, while offering additional insight into Navajo culture and history.

  •  

    Discuss what it would be like if you were told to never speak your language again and that your tongue would be whipped if you did.

  •  

    Determine which drawing is the most moving/powerful for you and explain how it helps deepen your understanding of the written text.

  •  

    The author does not directly address how the Navajo were called upon to save a country that tried to destroy them as a people. Infer what it must have felt like and write a journal entry as one of the code talkers in which you confide your innermost thoughts and feelings.

  •  

    The codes of graphic texts include line, colour and page layout. Explore how these three codes are used to relay meaning in the first double-page spread of the Navajo warrior and the Navajo soldier.

  •  

    The WWII Navajo code talkers were officially recognized with Congressional Gold Medals in 2001. After reading, discuss the pros and cons of the delayed recognition with a partner or in a small group.

  •  

    Research the political and military contributions of other Indigenous peoples in Canada and the US. Use the research, along with this text, to produce an article or opinion piece.

  •  

    On a picture walk make predictions about the story, then adjust them as the story is read aloud.

  •  

    While you are expected to speak English in ESL class, imagine if you were told to never speak your own language again.

  •  

    Use a teacher-selected book to compare the Navajo situation to that of the Canadian residential schools. Show your results in a Venn diagram.

  •  

    Discuss how the Navajo, in WWII, helped save the same country that tried to destroy their population.

  •  

    Use the  NATO alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) or Morse code to transmit messages or tell elements of the story.

  •  

    Who are the Navajo? Split the research with a partner: one of you investigates the Navajo past and the other, Navajo present. Share your findings with each other, discussing them as you go.

  •  

    Take note of words or expressions that you don’t understand. Infer their meaning from context or use resources.

  •  

    Write a script for a scene between a Navajo chief and a member or two of his tribe, discussing and deciding whether they should help the American military or not during World War II.

  • To communicate appropriately
  • To cooperate with others
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Media Literacy
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Social Sciences