FICTION

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker's Story

illus. by Liz Amini-Holmes. 32p. Albert Whitman. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807500071.
COPY ISBN
Gr 2–5—Bruchac has penned a moving portrait of Chester Nez, a Navajo code talker who survived the residential school system and World War II. The narrative opens in 1929, with an eight-year-old Betoli being forced into a missionary's truck and given the name Chester. Even though he was told to only speak English in order to "live in the white man's world," he decided to never forget his language and his people. Once he graduated, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was placed in platoon number 382, the group who created the only unbreakable code during the Second World War. Told in chronological segments (e.g., "December 1941: Month of Crusted Snow"), the work explores how closely the trauma of the residential school system and of fighting in war resemble each other. Amini-Holmes's illustrations are visceral in their depiction of pain; however, these moments are offset by more joyful scenes of Nez with family and his fellow code talkers and of him living "the Right Way." ("But what he felt best about…able to live the Right Way as a Navajo, holding on to his language and traditions despite being told in school to give up his culture.") Back matter includes an author's note and a portion of the Navajo code.
VERDICT A can't-miss picture book biography.

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