Review: The Unbreakable Code

The Unbreakable Code, written by Sara Hoagland Hunter and illustrated by Julia Miner.

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About:In World War II, the Americans needed a code that couldn’t be broken by the Japanese – and they recruited a group of Navaho to develop one. This book tells the story of the Navajo code talkers, put together out of interviews with many of the surviving code talkers, and framed in fiction as a grandfather telling his grandson not to be afraid to move to a new home. It’s an important part of American and WWII history, a discussion of how codes, languages and alphabets intertwine, and a clear portrait of what advantages cultural differences can bring to a multicultural society. It also tells clearly and effectively of the sadnesses of war, the punishments applied to Native Americans who tried to hold onto their culture and some of the barriers they faced to acceptance. The reading level is quite high and the themes quite strong, so I’d put this book at at age level of say 5-10 years old, despite it being a picture book with stunning illustrations.

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“The code had to be simple and fast. We would have only one chance to send each message. After that, the Japanese would be tracing our location to bomb us or trying to record the code.”

Good things:

  • Positive indigenous contribution to society
  • Central characters are Native American
  • War descriptions effective but without undue emphasis on the terrible
  • Places the code talkers in cultural and historical context
  • Talks about language and codes and how the code was developed
  • Promotes the use and value of indigenous language
  • Includes the basic code used by the code talkers
  • Beautiful oil painting illustrations

Review – Alfie’s Big Wish

Alfie’s Big Wish, by David Hardy

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About: This is a sweet little kids’ tale, about loneliness and finding a friend, set within the context of nomadic Aboriginal culture. David Hardy is Aboriginal, and also Disney-animation-trained, so the illustrations have that 2D cartoon cuteness and impishness to them that really works. At first I had misgivings about Disneyfying Aboriginal folk, but then I figured Disney does that to everyone so I’d probably rather have the representation than the lack of it. And it’s grown on me.

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“Why is there no one the same size as me?” My own Kid 4 and 5 say this a lot.

Good things:

  • Lead is POC, Aboriginal, traditional culture
  • Emotionally expressive illustrations
  • Australian landscape and colours
  • Rhyming text, limited number of words on a page for early readers.
  • Author/illustrator is Aboriginal

Review – The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point

 

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written/told by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Maggie Prewett

About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.

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Long after the prize money had been spent on sweets, people would still talk about the time Faithy-girl won the fancy dress parade at Flying Fish Point.

Good things:

  • True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
  • Aboriginal author and illustrator
  • A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
  • Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
  • Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
  • Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
  • Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly