Creative Editions
Author: J. Patrick Lewis / Illustrator: Gary Kelley
Wall Street Journal, Meghan Cox Gurdon, December 2017

Cultural reconciliation of a more sobering sort takes place in The Navajo Code
, a fascinating picture book about one of America’s most important secret assets in the Pacific theater during World War II. In somber hues and harsh, angular drawings, illustrator Gary Kelley portrays the work of a Navajo platoon that devised a double-encrypted cipher based on their tribe’s unwritten language. It confounded enemy code- breakers: Japanese newspapers described the intercepted chatter as “a strange earful of gurgling noise … resembling the call of a Tibetan monk and the sound of a hot water bottle being emptied.” This picture book includes a brief, unsparing account of events many decades before the war, when the Navajo were force-marched off their land in the American Southwest. Author J. Patrick Lewis gently notes the irony in the codebreakers being “recruited into the military that had once sought to destroy their ancestors.” Theirs was a heroic contribution: According to a signal officer quoted here, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”