Code Word Courage
Billie's surprised when Leo brings home a fellow Marine from boot camp, Denny. She has so much to ask Leo -- about losing her best friend and trying to find their father -- but Denny, who is Navajo, or Diné, comes with something special: a gorgeous, but injured, stray dog. As Billie cares for the dog, whom they name Bear, she and Bear grow deeply attached to each other.
Soon enough, it's time for Leo and Denny, a Navajo Code Talker, to ship out. Billie does her part for the war effort, but she worries whether Leo and Denny will make it home, whether she'll find a new friend, and if her father will ever come back. Can Bear help Billie -- and Denny -- find what's most important?
A powerful tale about unsung heroism on the WWII battlefield and the home front.
Dogs of World War II
Billie and her big brother, Leo, have lived with their great aunt Doff for a while, since their mother passed away, and their father eventually left after he lost his farm. Doff is brusque and no nonsense, but takes good care of them. When Leo must go off to fight in World War II, Billie knows that she will miss him dreadfully, especially now that her best friend Hazel is hanging out with Kit, a mean and popular girl. When Leo comes home to visit after basic training, he brings a fellow Marine, Denny, home with him. On the way, Denny has found an injured dog that he names bear, and brings the dog with him because he feels that Billie needs someone to care for with Leo gone. Doff grudgingly agrees to keep him, and Billie struggles to get him a collar, leash and food with her scanty babysitting money. When the men go back to the Marines, Denny is picked to be part of the Codetalkers, Navajo men who used their native language to transmit messages that could not be decoded by the enemy. Leo gets shipped to the Pacific, and Billie must deal with living on the home front, collecting salvage, saving money to buy stamps to trade in for a saving bond, and rationing food. Her new friendship with Tito, a boy whose father is working on Doff's ranch, is put to the test when the two fight and Tito is injured while out stargazing. Bear comes to the rescue on more than one occasion.
Billie's experiences on the home front are not that unusual, but it was interesting to see a book set out west that included the treatment of Mexican Americans. Tito suffers from being made fun of a lot, but he is very stoic about it. I hadn't known that there was such discrimination against Mexican Americans during this time period until I read Conkling's Sylvia and Aki (2011), and this, too, is a good topic to see addressed.
World War II continues to be a topic that fascinates young readers, and Code Word Courage will keep those obsessed with the era reading happily.