Review: Code Talker

“But I had no idea, even in my wildest dreams, that the very language those bilagdanaa teacher tried to erase – the way you wipe words from a blackboard – would one day be needed by important white men.” page 27

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Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2005.
Historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile:  910L  .
AR Level:  6.4 (worth 9.0 points)  .

This novel follows fictional narrator Ned Begay through his life, focusing particularly on his experiences as a Navajo code talker.

Code Talker resized

The framework of this story is that it is a story that a grandfather is telling to his grandchildren.  This idea is presented in the introduction and mentioned sporadically throughout the novel as well as in the final chapter.  I was a bit iffy about this device, but Bruchac used it beautifully.

Although the majority of this book deals with the fictional narrator’s time as a code talker, he begins the story when he went to boarding school, since learning English and being able to balance his own culture with the white American norms forced upon him have a lot of bearing on who he became and how he was able to navigate both worlds.

While the narrator is fictional, almost everything else is real, in particular the other code talkers mentioned are real historical figures, and all of the battles and troop movements mentioned are as they actually occurred.  This was one of my few quibbles with this book, it did occasionally give a little too much information.  On the other hand, a student particularly interested in WWII would probably soak it up.

If the world of diverse historical fiction is already lacking, the selection is even more meager when searching for diverse historical fiction to appeal to boys.  I know of only two authors consistently writing in this field – Christopher Paul Curtis and Joseph Bruchac (if you know of others, please leave a comment).

Speak is best known for YA fiction, sometimes quite intense reads.  So I was pleasantly surprised that this is a family-friendly read-aloud.  Of course there are moments that the story gets intense and the violence of WWII is represented, so as always, pre-read for younger or more sensitive children.  If you have very young listeners you may want to skip over some of the scenes involving death and injury.  But there was no explicit content and the story could be enjoyed by upper elementary school students up to high school.

There were a handful of areas where Bruchac laid on the facts and figures about WWII too heavily, but overall this was far more engaging than the last book we read by him.  Given the unexpected violence in the last book, this one was much less surprising since it actually took place in a war.  I’m looking forward to reading other historical fiction he’s written.  This book even had a good amount about Ira Hayes, which was great since we’d just learned about him another way.

There are some serious injuries and deaths, as would be expected in a novel about the action in WWII.  Ned also faces frequent bigotry and sometimes outright abuse due to his ethnicity.  While Bruchac definitely includes those moments, he doesn’t focus on the violence.  Only one of the descriptions felt too gruesome for me.  (I’m sure it was accurate, just a little more than I would want to read aloud around the little ones.)

The final section includes several pages on Navajo history, the code talkers in particular, and how Bruchac (who is Abenaki, not Navajo) came to write this book.  I appreciated that he gave thanks to the Navajo elders and code talkers who shared their stories with him but took full responsibility for any errors in the book.

I’m happy to recommend this book and look forward to reading more of Bruchac’s historical fiction.

Graphic Novel? Review: Tina’s Mouth

“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 3.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.

Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy.  She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.

Tina's Mouth resized
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.

The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before.  I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only.  Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.

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Review: Come to Believe

“The typical higher education board is 30 percent women, and 10 percent people of color. At Arrupe, 50 percent of our board members are women and 57 percent are people of color.” p. 65

Come to Believe: How the Jesuits are Reinventing Education (Again) – Inside the First Year of the New Arrupe College by Stephen N. Katsouros.
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2017.
Non-fiction, 181 pages.

The first year of Arrupe college, a two-year, debt-free Associate’s Degree program aimed at providing low-income, first generation minority college students with a high quality liberal arts education.

Come to Believe

A friend recommended this.  First, I will mention that this is religious because the author is Jesuit priest.  So he talks about homilies and Bible stories and there is a religious motivation behind this college (the name of it is based off of a famous Jesuit apparently).  However, I did also feel that this book could be read by non-religious people too.  Most of the book is focused on creating the college whether it’s the practicalities or the stories of different students.

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Review: Hope Against Hope

“Unlike most literature about New Orleans, this book focuses on what makes the city ordinary rather than extraordinary.” page 5

Hope Against Hope:  Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children by Sarah Carr.
Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2013.
Nonfiction, 317 pages including notes, bibliography, and index.
Not leveled.

The story of how a wave of mostly outsider-led charter schools are dramatically changing education in New Orleans, through a year long 2010 study of three different schools.

Hope Against Hope

Carr took such an interesting tactic in this book, and not one I would have thought of myself.  She worked closely with three different people: a student, a teacher, and a principal.  They are all at different schools, each with its own take on solving the education crisis and its own method for resolving the problems that the 2005 hurricane have only exacerbated.

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Review: First in the Family 2

“You definitely feel conflicted when you stand out in a group, and you’re
going through different experiences. You feel a little bit discouraged. But
if you already stand out, you might as well shine. ” Maly, p. 74

First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students – Your College Years by Kathleen Cushman.
Next Generation Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 2006.
Available online at http://www.firstinthefamily.org/pdfs/First%20in%20Family_manuscript.pdf
Accessed in February and March of 2018.
Nonfiction, 124 pages (68 PDF pages).
NOTE: Sequel to First in the Family – Your High School Years, which I reviewed back in January.

This book gives encouragement and advice to students who may be the first in their families to attend college.  It includes many personal stories and quotations from students who have similar journeys.

First in the Family 2

This short book is aimed at encouraging teens from minority groups (or who are economically disadvantaged) to persevere in college.  When no family members or friends have attended college, students can find themselves at yet another disadvantage as they have no guide to help them navigate college classes or culture.  This book is here to help, with stories and tips from real students who have made it through part or all of college although they were the first in their families.

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Review: First in the Family

“If you want to go to college, right from the start you have to raise your voice, ask for what you need, and keep your eyes open about what classes and opportunities your high school offers you.” page 32

First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students – Your High School Years by Kathleen Cushman.
Next Generation Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 2005.
Nonfiction, 80 pages.
Not leveled.

This book gives encouragement and advice to high school students who may be the first in their families to attend college.  It includes many personal stories and quotations from students who have similar journeys.

First in the Family

One of the main focuses of this slim volume is encouraging teens from minority groups to attend college and pursue careers rather than jobs.  This book is specifically aimed at diverse high school students who have no family members that have attended college.

I bought this book because it was on clearance for a dollar at Barnes & Noble. I’m not the first member of my family to attend college, and neither was Husband.  I don’t work with high school students, but wanted to review it here.  After reading it and starting to write this review, I discovered there is a free interactive online version of the text.  The second book The College Years, is also available online for free in a PDF format.  I look forward to exploring those resources more at a later time.

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Review: Educating All God’s Children

“Most disturbing, Anthony regarded society’s low expectations of him as the reason why his school didn’t have the necessary supplies.” page 12

Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can – and Should – Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham.
BrazosPress, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2013.
Persuasive non-fiction, 235 pages including notes.

Fulgham wrote this book for the sixteen million children growing up in poverty in the United States of America and receiving a drastically different education than their upper and middle-class counterparts.  This book is fairly unique to America, because US education is uniquely flawed.

Educating All Gods Children

The first time I read this book was as a young educator ready to change the world.  This time, I read it having parented, including having parented children in highly segregated schools.

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