Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Written in code

Hav­ing just fin­ished a ter­rif­ic new book called J.R.R. Tolkien, by Alexan­dra and John Wall­ner (Hol­i­day House), I was remind­ed about codes. I spent a good num­ber of hours dur­ing my junior high days fash­ion­ing notes in Elvish and leav­ing them in my friends’ lock­ers. The runic writ­ing fas­ci­nat­ed me and, of course, the idea of hav­ing a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that couldn’t be read if it fell into the wrong hands was … deli­cious. For many of the same rea­sons, codes have fas­ci­nat­ed read­ers of all ages. You’ll find tie-ins for lin­guis­tics, math­e­mat­ics, sci­ence, his­to­ry, and social stud­ies with­in these books.

J.R.R. TolkienIn J.R.R. Tolkien, the Wall­ners have con­ceived of The Game of Imag­i­na­tion, lay­ing out the time­line of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life as squares on an illus­trat­ed game board, with a deck of play­ing cards that depicts his life from child­hood to old age, when he wrote, “I am in fact a hob­bit in all but size.” Called Ronald, the man whose imag­i­na­tion was filled with drag­ons, elves, and hob­bits, the child was home­schooled and lat­er pub­lic schooled, study­ing philol­o­gy and mak­ing up his own lan­guage so his friends could write to each oth­er in secret. Dur­ing World War I, Tolkien learned Morse code as well as the lan­guage of sig­nal flags and sig­nal rock­ets. When he cre­at­ed Mid­dle Earth, is it any won­der that he includ­ed lan­guage, runes, and Gob­lin code in his world view? Well-researched and well-writ­ten, this is a good biog­ra­phy for young read­ers of The Hob­bit and The Lord of the Rings.

The Romeo and Juliet CodeIn the same week, I read The Romeo and Juli­et Code by Phoebe Stone (Arthur A. Levine Books), con­vinced that codes were the theme of the week. Felic­i­ty Bath­burn Bud­wig loves her par­ents dear­ly but she is bewil­dered because they’ve tak­en her on a ship to Amer­i­ca and dropped her off to live with a fam­i­ly she’s nev­er known. Then they leave with­out expla­na­tion. Felic­i­ty, or Fliss, has a vague idea that they’ve brought her to Amer­i­ca because the Blitz has made Lon­don unsafe, but she is con­fused by the grand­moth­er, uncle, and aunt who act cold­ly toward her father, their blood rel­a­tive. Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing her search for under­stand­ing, her uncle reg­u­lar­ly receives let­ters from her father that he won’t let her read. He locks him­self in a room and then leaves with a fold­er under his arm, walk­ing down the beach. Told in a con­vinc­ing first-per­son voice, set in a believ­able locale in the months before Pearl Har­bor was attacked, this page-turn­er is as involv­ing as Fliss and Cap­tain Derek’s furtive attempts to solve the mys­ter­ies that sur­round them. The code? Well, it’s at the heart of the mys­tery and the book’s title gives a bet­ter clue than I can. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Code TalkerCode Talk­er by Joseph Bruchac, is being dis­cussed on Ani­ta Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. Kii Yazhi is tak­en to a board­ing school when is six years old, forced to give up his cloth­ing, his lan­guage, and his cul­ture. His teacher names him Ned Begay, so even Kii Yazhi’s name is lost. Except in secret. The chil­dren main­tain their lan­guage in secret, remem­ber­ing their names, not giv­ing over their cul­ture. When Ned is 16, and Amer­i­ca is fight­ing in World War II, he enlists in the Marines. There he dis­cov­ers that his Nava­jo lan­guage is being used by the Amer­i­can forces as an uncrack­able code in the war in the Pacif­ic against the Japan­ese. This is an excel­lent book of fic­tion that relies on many well-researched details to cre­ate a com­plete­ly believ­able sto­ry. It’s also a book about pride in one­self, one’s cul­ture, and one’s coun­try.

Navajo Code TalkersNathan Aaseng wrote the absorb­ing non­fic­tion book Nava­jo Code Talk­ers (Walk­er) in 1994 and it stands as one of the most pop­u­lar books about this dig­ni­fied group of 450 men who used their native lan­guage to foil the Japan­ese. The com­plex­i­ty of the Nava­jo lan­guage made it ide­al for use as a code to pro­tect the knowl­edge of troop move­ment through­out the Pacif­ic islands. Work­ing both behind the lines and in the front line, these men remained unsung heroes of the war for many years as the gov­ern­ment hoped to pro­tect the code. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin offers a good list of sug­ges­tions, along with sup­ple­men­tary infor­ma­tion, for includ­ing this book in your class­room. Aaseng has an acces­si­ble writ­ing style that helps make this book of high inter­est to those who enjoy read­ing about World War II, mil­i­tary strat­e­gy, and lan­guage.

Radio RescueRadio Res­cue, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lynne Barasch (Frances Foster/FS&G), tells the true sto­ry of the author’s father, who in 1923 at the age of 10 became the youngest licensed ama­teur wire­less radio oper­a­tor in the Unit­ed States. His knowl­edge of Morse Code and his pro­fi­cien­cy with the wire­less set brought him to a time and place where he was able to pro­vide infor­ma­tion to res­cue a fam­i­ly strand­ed in a Flori­da hur­ri­cane.

Chasing VermeerWith a more visu­al code in mind, Blue Bal­li­ett cre­at­ed Chas­ing Ver­meer, which uses pen­tomi­noes to pro­vide clues with­in the illus­tra­tions by Brett Halquist. Sixth-graders Petra and Calder col­lide while on a muse­um field trip, send­ing them on a mys­tery-solv­ing tour they weren’t antic­i­pat­ing. A thief has stolen a Ver­meer paint­ing en route to a Chica­go muse­um. A series of clever news­pa­per ads alert the chil­dren and they’re soon embroiled in a plan to retrieve the paint­ing before the thief destroys it.  Involv­ing for both visu­al and lin­guis­tic learn­ers. A good book to read out loud to your class before they vis­it a muse­um. Would you like to get those visu­al learn­ers involved in a more hands-on way? Wikipedia has an excel­lent arti­cle that will get you start­ed incor­po­rat­ing  pen­tomi­noes into your class­room. Scholas­tic, the book’s pub­lish­er, offers an online game.

The Victorian Internet

For teen read­ers inter­est­ed in code, they’ll find The Vic­to­ri­an Inter­net: the Remark­able Sto­ry of the Tele­graph and the Nine­teenth Century’s On-Line Pio­neers by Tom Standage to be fas­ci­nat­ing. From Jean Antoine Nol­let to Thomas Edi­son to Samuel F.B. Morse, there were a host of peo­ple mov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion for­ward to this era of cell phones and iPads. I dare you to resist this book once you’ve read the author’s own descrip­tion:

In the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry there were no tele­vi­sions, aero­planes, com­put­ers, or space­craft; nei­ther were there antibi­otics, cred­it cards, microwave ovens, com­pact discs, or mobile phones.

There was, how­ev­er, an Inter­net.

Dur­ing Queen Victoria’s reign, a new com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy was devel­oped that allowed peo­ple to com­mu­ni­cate almost instant­ly across great dis­tances, in effect shrink­ing the world faster and fur­ther than ever before. A world-wide com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work whose cables spanned con­ti­nents and oceans, it rev­o­lu­tionised busi­ness prac­tice, gave rise to new forms of crime, and inun­dat­ed its users with a del­uge of infor­ma­tion. Romances blos­somed over the wires. Secret codes were devised by some users, and cracked by oth­ers. The ben­e­fits of the net­work were relent­less­ly hyped by its advo­cates, and dis­missed by the scep­tics. Gov­ern­ments and reg­u­la­tors tried and failed to con­trol the new medi­um. Atti­tudes to every­thing from news­gath­er­ing to diplo­ma­cy had to be com­plete­ly rethought. Mean­while, out on the wires, a tech­no­log­i­cal sub­cul­ture with its own cus­toms and vocab­u­lary was estab­lish­ing itself.” —Tom Standage, The Vic­to­ri­an Inter­net

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.