September 5, 2018

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code:
A Navajo Code Talker’s Story
by Joseph Bruchac
pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes
Albert Whitman and Company

At 8 years-old, Betoli is sent to the Fort Defiance School.  It is a boarding school where Navajo children are taught to live in the white world.

Step 1. Give them white names.  Betoli is called Chester.

Step 2.  Forbid their language.  Navajo is bad.  Children who speak Navajo have their mouths washed out with harsh soap. Never mind that they don’t know English.

In the summer, Chester goes home where he can speak Navajo and practice his religion.  In the fall, he goes back to school.

He understands that he needs to learn to function in the white world.  But he also sees the beauty of the Right Way. He comforts the younger children who have nightmares.  He studies and learns English.  He learns about Catholicism.  But he is still Navajo.

When World War II arrives, the Marines realize that they need a solution for the code problem.  They have a machine, aptly named The Shackle.  It takes 4 hours to code, send a message, and decode it on the other end.

The Marines have heard of the Navajo language.  They go to the Reservation and explain that they need men who speak both English and Navajo. Of the many men who volunteer, Chester is one of 29 chosen to be in Platoon 382.  They create a code and use it to send, receive and decode a message in less than 3 minutes.  They are the solution to the Marine’s problem.

Chester and his fellow Navajo are sent to Guadalcanal and other places.  In the heart of battle, they see men die.  Many of them become sick.  But still they work on because they know they have an important job.  With their help, the US wins the war.

Back at home, they are not allowed to talk about their work because it is top secret.  The Marines may still need to use their code.  This secrecy isolates the men and they have nightmares.  Chester’s family saw he needed help and they bring in a singer to do a healing ceremony called The Enemy Way. Through the ceremony, Chester rediscovered the Trail of Beauty.

This amazing true story shows how Nez maintained his Navajo identity in the white world.  Joseph Bruchac is the author of well over 120 books and is known for his writing on native topics.  He ends the book with the Navajo code and a timeline of events.  Amini-Holmes is both a fine artist and an illustrator.  Her work brings the actions and emotions to life in a way that is accessible to young readers.

Written as a picture book, the topic is most appropriate for slightly older readers from second to fourth grade.  This is a vital story that should be in every school library.



1 Comment »

  1. […] For me, this means reading good nonfiction. One of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2018 was Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes (Albert Whitman […]

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