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:
The second site is a 2005 interview of Joseph Bruchac by Cynthia Leitich Smith about his journey in writing Code Talker:
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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

All of the Above

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall
I am not much of a sports fan. When I watch a game, I tend to pick a team to win after I have started watching the game. I'm not fussy but I do have a love for the underdog player(s) that can beat the bigger, wealthier, stronger (you name the adjective) opponent to win. I think that's why I enjoyed All of the Above. The characters in this story are very likeable underdogs.
All of the Above is a contender for this year's Virginia Reader's Choice in the Middle School category. It's a multi-voice novel about how a rather non-impressive math teacher and a group of students known for being disadvantaged set out to make the largest tetrahedron known to man….quite a math lesson for them and readers.
What I love about this school story is that each character's story, entwined with the others, gets me to cheer for each person through their challenges, fights and tragedies. At one point in the story all seems lost….I mean ALL seems lost. But the support of key adults for the hard luck kids and the fierce determination of the students to achieve changes them from underdogs into victors….and this last sentence is NOT a spoiler!
Recipes from one of the character's all through the book carry the tone and emotion from chapter to chapter in a fun way—and kids might even try making some of the tasty sounding dishes. I recommend this book for boys and girls in grades 5-8.

Pearsall, S. All of the Above. New York: Little Brown & Co, 2006. Print.

Monday, November 15, 2010

London Calling

London Calling by Edward Bloor
The thing about wars is at their outset, one doesn't know how they will end or who will be the victors. Good people can unexpectedly act dishonorably. People of poor or mediocre character can just as surprisingly behave nobly and courageously. Who will be noble or dishonorable, however, cannot be known as the first shots are fired or as the first bombs fall. In the end, the victors write history, determine who the heroes are and what the books record.
J. Martin Conway is a distinguished diplomat in the year 2019. His seventh grade experiences and memories are largely what shaped him into the man that he became. What's so different about Martin's path is that in seventh grade he traveled back in time, over the radio waves of a vintage World War II radio to the days of the London blitz of 1940—before America's entry into the war.
During the blitz, Hitler's Germany sought to break the will of the British people by bombing London into dust. Responding in their finest hour, British citizens stood up to the bombings with a heroism that shocked the Nazis and the world. Martin discovers truths about people known as heroes in his own time and unnamed heroes of 1940s London that are intertwined not only with the history of his nation of America and his snotty private school,All Soul's Preparatory, but of his own family.
Martin finds himself awash in questions that can only be answered by living the history. Slowly, his list of questions about the war, people that fought, died and survived are answered through his time travels and we readers learn a bit about how history is simultaneously remembered and unrecorded. Readers think about what the meaning of the title of hero.
London Calling is a provocative read (or listen as I listened to the story on CD). I recommend it for middle school age boys and girls that enjoy a historical novel that includes problems to think about as well as ghost stories. The first third of the book is much about Martin's middle school difficulties…which does take some time to get through but is worth the time when learning how he resolves all troubles. Adults who read this book come away from it humming bars of the 1940's pop song We'll Meet Again or their money back.
London Calling was a contender but not a winner for the Virginia Reader's Choice Award in 2010.
Bloor, Edward. London Calling. New York. Random House, 2006. Audio.