Monday, March 26, 2012

Important secrets

 I love it when I can tie a local event to children’s literature. 

On Tuesday, March 27th at 7p.m., at the Military Museums in Calgary, Zonnie Gorman will share some of the experiences her father, Carl had during World War II as one of the original members of the Navajo (Dine) Code Talkers.  Twenty-nine Dine men developed a secret code based on their native language that proved undecipherable to the Japanese.  So, if you’re able, stop by.

If you’re not able to attend, check out Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac (823 B837C7 FIC). This novel is about a fictional character, Ned Begay, who enlists in the Marines when he is only sixteen and is selected to become a code talker.

The book takes us through his experiences as a child at a residential school for Navajo children where an attempt is made to eradicate his ‘Indian-ness’  --  his hair is cut, his clothes and personal items removed, and most importantly, speaking in his own language is suppressed.  For all of that, Ned does keep his language and learns to excel in school.  He is in high school when the Second World War starts.  When Marines start recruiting at his school, Ned sets his sights on joining the military.  Basic training in boot camp and the secret training for becoming a code talker are covered but most of the book is about fighting in battles with the Japanese.  These encounters sound grueling but are not described in overly bloody tones.  Yes, many soldiers die but this is not graphically depicted.

After the atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrenders; the war is over.  Ned comes back from the war changed but finds that American society has not. Discrimination against Indians by whites is still the norm.  He decides to continue with his education, becoming a teacher and getting involved with tribal government looking to change discriminating practices and laws.  It’s not until 1969 that he able to talk about his real role in the war and the significance of the code talkers to the war effort.

There is a lot of history included in this novel, which provides context for what Ned experiences. The irony of trying to suppress the Navajo language at the residential schools and the importance of the language in World War II are made very apparent.

Joseph Bruchac includes an extensive note about how he came to write this story and additional information about the Dine.  He bases most of the story on well documented incidents.  He includes the names of many real people including Carl Gorman (see first paragraph) in his story.  The novel is recommended for grades 6/7 and up.

For further analysis of the novel, visit the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature for an essay written by Beverly Slapin reviewing several books written about the code talkers.

For additional information about code talkers, check out the section in Ultra Hush-Hush: espionage and special missions by Stephen Shapiro and Tina Forrester (940.5485 ShU 2003).


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