When Ned Begay hears that Navajos are being recruited for World War II, he jumps at the chance to join the Marine Corps, and finds himself brought into a secret program that uses Navajo language to send codes.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
The Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced relocation of Native American nations following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of tribes who did not wish to assimilate. Many Native Americans suffered from disease and exposure, and somewhere between 2,000-6,000 Cherokee died on the trail. The Trail of Tears Diary includes interviews that reveals the extraordinary resilience of the Native American nations during the trail.
Have students read this informational text about the forced relocation of Native Americans before they start the book to provide them with additional historical context. While the informational text is not specifically about the Navajo, Ned’s tribe, the text can help students better understand how the United States government has treated Native American tribes historically. As students read the book, ask them to consider how the government controls Native Americans’ way of life. How do students think the trauma experienced by the Native Americans who survived forced relocation continued to affect their families and their people as a whole?
In Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s short story “The Medicine Bag,” Martin’s grandpa visits him and passes down a medicine bag to him, an important object in their family.
After Chapter 9, introduce this short story about a boy who receives a medicine bag from his grandfather, and ask students to discuss the importance of tradition to Native American tribes. Why is it important to Ned and his parents for him to take part in a Blessingway? What does it mean to Martin’s grandfather to pass down his medicine bag to Martin? What do Ned and Martin’s experiences show about how Native American traditions have persisted?
In the informational text “Cracking Code Purple,” Anna Ouhchy discusses the discovery of cryptanalyst Genevieve Grotjan during World War II.
Have students read this informational text about a female code breaker after they finish Chapter 12, when Ned attends code school. Ask students to discuss why developing codes and being able to crack them was important to the war. How did the code that Japanese diplomats used compare to the code developed with Navajo? Why would a code developed using Navajo be difficult to crack?
In the informational text “A Flag That Honors War Veterans,” Shawn E. Hanscom discusses the creation of the first Service Flag and what it represents.
Introduce this text about honoring soldiers in war after Chapter 21, when Ned see the casualties of war in Guam. Ask students to discuss the costs of war. What do people who go to war risk? What are Ned’s experiences while he’s in Guam? How do Service Flags help acknowledge all that soldiers do when they go to war? How do students think Ned and the other Marines would feel about Americans putting up Service Flags for them back home?
In the informational text “The Bombing of Hiroshima,” Jessica McBirney describes the United States’ use of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
Have students read this text to provide them with additional information about the atomic bombing of Japan after Chapter 28, when Ned describes the bombing of Hiroshima. In the novel, Ned states how many people were killed by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. What were other consequences of the atomic bombs? How does Ned feel about the bombing of Hiroshima in the moment? How do students think he, and other American troops, would feel if they knew the long-term effects of the bombs?
In Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” the speaker describes a flower that grew in an unlikely place.
Introduce this poem after students finish the novel and World War II has come to an end. Ask students to discuss the obstacles that Ned has faced throughout the novel, and his ability to grow and succeed in spite of them. Have students consider Ned’s journey in terms of the poem. What could the concrete and rose represent in terms of Ned and other Navajos who were code talkers during World War II?
In the informational text “Army Code Talkers,” the author discusses how American Indian soldiers developed codes based on their native languages to be used in WWI and WWII.
Have students read this text after they finish the book to provide them with additional information about Native American code talkers. In the novel, the author focuses on code talkers in the Pacific during World War II. Where else did code talkers help during World War II? What other wars did Native Americans aid the United States in? How do the novel and the informational text portray Native Americans’ experiences upon coming home from war? How has the treatment and acknowledgement of Native American veterans changed over time?