BOOKS

The Navajo Code Talkers

illus. by Gary Kelley. 32p. bibliog. notes. Creative Editions. Aug. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781568462950.
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Gr 5 Up—In this follow-up to Lewis and Kelley's And the Soldiers Sang and Harlem Hellfighters, readers are introduced to the Navajo code talkers of World War II. Lewis's lyrical, enlightening text offers a broad outline of historical events, while Kelley's evocative illustrations add emotional weight to the narrative. Beginning with the traumatic Long Walk of the 1860s, when the U.S. government ordered the forced removal of the Navajo from their homeland, Lewis goes on to mention the boarding schools that banned the use of the Navajo language, and emphasizes the irony of the U.S. government relying on that same language for military advantage during World War II. Kelley's atmospheric pastel panels capture the landscape of the Navajo homeland in bright, sandy oranges and browns, while military scenes appear in a contrasting dull gray. Back matter citing the National Museum of the American Indian includes more detailed information on the historical events of World War II involving the code talkers, and a brief bibliography is also appended. However, no sources are provided for any of the material presented, including direct quotes from those involved and an artist's note that refers generally to the incorporation of "ceremonial" and "traditional" Navajo blanket designs. A few problematic textual choices, such as referring to the Navajo in the past tense when describing how they "called themselves Diné" and stating that, in 1940, "the 20th century had yet to catch up with the desert dwelling Navajo," unfortunately reinforce stereotypes of Native Americans as people of the past rather than the present. The striking illustrations will capture the attention of readers, but educators should be prepared to provide additional context and discussion.
VERDICT Acceptable as an introduction to the subject, but best paired with supplemental resources.

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