Title: Code Talker
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Publisher: Penguin Group
Number of Pages: 240 (paperback)
Advertised Age Level: Ages 10 – 17
Age and Grade of Main Character(s): 16 years
Language: no profanity
Drug/Alcohol Use: references to adult soldiers drinking beer, references to veterans using alcohol to forget the horrors of war
Violence: descriptions of intense battle scenes although not graphic
Social Issues: horrors of war, oppression of indigenous peoples, discrimination, self-worth
Suggested Movie Grade: PG
When Ned Begay was only seven years old, he was sent away from his family living on the Navajo reservation to attend a “white” mission school, where he was told that he must forget all of his Navajo ways, especially his beloved Navajo language. Despite constant discrimination from his white teachers, Ned succeeds in school. When he is sixteen, a Marine officer arrives looking for native Navajo speakers to help the military fight World War II in a very special way. Because the Navajo language is so hard to learn and speak, and because so few people know it, the military believes it is the perfect secret code to use to communicate during the upcoming battles in the Pacific. Although Ned is technically too young to join, he enlists in the Marines and becomes a Code Talker, one of only 400 Navajo soldiers who become crucial in the U.S.’s efforts to beat the Japanese.
Over the next years, Ned takes part in some of the most dangerous and famous battles of World War II. Along the way, he gains respect from his fellow soldiers and is happy that he can prove the value of his native language. But when he returns from his adventures as a Code Talker, he is sad to see that many prejudices remain, and that he is not allowed to talk about the importance the Navajo language played in winning the war.
Potential Points of Concern
Ned is punished for speaking Navajo in school by having soap put in his mouth. Other students are severely punished for speaking Navajo.
Ned is present for many of the key battles in the Pacific campaign of World War II. While battles are intense and mention is made of soldiers who are injured or killed, there are no graphic descriptions of the human casualties of war.
Ned describes some of the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers, including torture and enslavement of their enemies, as well as their vicious fighting tactics and suicidal missions.
Age Appropriateness: 10 +