Sunday, November 21, 2010

Joseph Bruchac, author of Code Talker and so much more


Code Talker and more by Joseph Bruchac
A funny thing happened to me on my way to Ms. Jones' Reading class. I was preparing a book talk, which is a short talk about one or several books for students as a way of introducing them to titles they may be interested in reading. As I was preparing a list of books to talk about tomorrow, I noticed a book titled Squanto's Journey in a book display I arranged for November. Ooooh. I thought, this is the week before Thanksgiving I should include that book. It's a beautifully written picture book of the Thanksgiving story told through Squanto's point of view. The perspective is interesting and historically accurate. Then, I was cataloging some donated books and saw the author of Squanto's Journey's name, Bruchac, again on The Dark Pond. I picked it up and read it. It was a great story….a bit scary but centered on a Native American character from upstate New York.
Since I'm a native New Yorker and fascinated by Native American tales, I thought I'd look up this author, Bruchac, and find out what other books he's written as I enjoyed the first two books so much. I was wowed by the author's official website. Joseph Bruchac is the author of Code Talker and 70 additional books for children, teens and adults. All of his books are related to the Native American experience. Bruchac writes these books with the authority of being born of Abenaki, a Native American tribe from New York State's Adirondack region.
I immediately picked up Code Talker and couldn't put it down. The story is told through the narrative of a fictional grandfather Navaho code talker in World War II to his grandchildren. The story begins when the main character, Ned Begay, is six years old and sent away to a mission boarding school where he is instructed to forget about being Navaho in every way. Historically, Native American children such as Begay
were indeed punished for speaking or connecting to their native culture while living at white boarding schools all over the US.
Ned Begay survives his years of schooling by being smart, quiet and polite until during the early years of World War II when Navaho Americans were recruited by the US Marine Corps to use their native language for military code during the Pacific Island Hopping campaign. Begay lies about his age to join the Marines and becomes part of the secret code talking Navaho force.
Despite the irony of being called upon to save the lives of thousands of Americans through mastery of a language they were forced to forget as children, real code talkers during the war served with incredible distinction and bravery. The historical detail in this novel written for Middle to High School students is thorough and enthralling… far more interesting and in depth than any Social Studies book I ever taught from as a Social Studies teacher years ago. This book is equally captivating for adults and should be read by anyone wanting to understand how the US was able to win against the formidable war machine that the Japanese empire was during the war.
Notes from the author at the end of the book about Bruchac's inspiration for writing Code Talker are amazing….more than amazing but I don't know the words to adequately describe the awe I am in for this author's passion for researching and preserving Native American history, culture and society through his gifts and talents as a writer. It is an honor to read this book and absorb this part of Navaho and American history. I will enthusiastically encourage Middle Schoolers to read it and find out more about the importance of Code Talkers in defending and preserving our nation. I recommend it for high school and adult reading as well.
Two websites are worth mentioning for further learning about this author. The first is Joseph Bruchac's official website that describes more about him and how his life is work and his work is his life. I highly recommend a visit there: http://www.josephbruchac.com/published_books.html
The second site is a 2005 interview of Joseph Bruchac by Cynthia Leitich Smith about his journey in writing Code Talker: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2005/09/author-interview-joseph-bruchac-on.html
Joseph Bruchac has won numerous awards for his novels, picture books, non-fiction works and poetry. He is definitely an author to explore! I can't wait to get my hands on another one of his books.
Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker. New York: Penguin Publishing, 2006. Print.

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