Code Word Courage

Written by Kirby Larson
Review by Viviane Crystal

Billie is a sensitive fifth-grade girl trying to cope with several challenges. She’s the object of teasing from what she calls “louts” and wonders how a close friendship she had has turned into nothing but unkind barbs. Add to that the fact that her brother Leo, who has always been her best friend, is about to go off to World War II, departing into danger that could prove fatal. First, however, Leo brings home a new and interesting friend, a Navajo or Diné Indian, Denny.

Denny immediately warms to Billie and gets her to think about the war in a different way. His first notable act is to rescue a wounded dog that bonds quickly with Billie. She names him Bear, and later it will turn out that Bear is a unique animal with unusual presence. Denny’s role in the war will be far greater than anyone could imagine; he is a code talker. This means that the U.S. government has used words in the Navajo language to have specific meanings for communication during battles, not easy to decipher for those ignorant of the code’s origin.

This heartwarming story depicts how Billie learns to be strong and trusting despite adverse conditions. It’s also the adventure of soldiers who not only manage to survive gruesome battle conditions, but also trust an inner strength that is almost supernatural. “Bear” is a precious gift. Remarkable, engaging and highly enjoyable historical fiction for young adults as well as all readers.