Text copyright © 2018 Joseph Bruchac; Pictures copyright © 2018 Liz Amini-Holmes. Images reproduced with permission of the publisher, Albert Whitman & Company

For Elementary Readers

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

Forced to attend a missionary boarding school, Betoli was forbidden to speak Navajo and given the English name Chester. Chester adapted as best he could to the forced assimilation but refused to give up his language and heritage—which he and other Navajo soldiers used to create an unbreakable code that was key to ending World War II.

Apply in the Classroom

After reading Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code, work as a class to create an “I Am” poem. Challenge students to share their ideas about how they think Chester would complete each part of this structured poem that typically begins I am, I wonder, I feel, I hear, etc. Then challenge students to create their own anonymous “I Am” poems that describe their special, unique qualities and express the way they feel, what they hope, think, dream, etc. Share poems by reading them aloud to the class, highlighting how each student’s unique identity makes the community richer and more diverse.

Questions for Discussion or Reflective Writing

How is your school similar or different from the boarding school that Chester and other American Indians attended?

How would it feel to have your name changed, your hair cut, and your own clothes taken away?

How would it feel to be forced to speak a language that wasn’t yours?

What do you think life was like for families with children at the boarding school?

Why do you think the boarding schools wanted to eliminate American Indian languages and cultures?

Why is it important to understand and value other cultures?

Related Teaching Resources

Albert Whitman & Company’s Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code Teacher’s Guide

Native Knowledge 360° from the National Museum of the American Indian

Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools from KUED

I am Poem project from inspirED

Navajo Code Talkers – Living History Videos

Native Words, Native Warriors from the National Museum of the American Indian

Reading Is Fundamental support materials

More Titles to Try

The Unbreakable Code by Sarah Hoagland Hunter

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers, Volume One by Arigon Starr

Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story by S.D. Nelson

Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina by Maria Tallchief, Rosemary Wells

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull

Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico México by Duncan Tonatiuh

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac and S.D. Nelson

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

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