The Unbreakable Code, advanced picture book, Navajo code talkers, Sarah Hoagland Hunter, decoding scavenger hunt, book club for boys, book club for kids, boys book club

Book Club for Boys: Navajo Code Talkers and Secret Code Scavenger Hunt

Secret Code Book Club for Boys

My seven-year-old son is in first grade but his closest friends are in second and third grades. It just worked out that way because he missed the cutoff so he’s among the older kids in his class. He can read but he needs help with chapter books and when this book club was formed, I was concerned about bridging the different reading levels.

The solution? Advanced picture books for kids. To prepare for this, I even blogged on it. I love advanced picture books — and my older kids do too! — as a means of visiting new cultures around the world and even back in time.

Unbreakable Code
 by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner

The Unbreakable Code is close to my heart because it’s the story of the heroic Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, unsung heroes who created a code that the Japanese could not break. Apparently, the war in the Pacific prior to this had gone poorly as the Japanese were ace code breakers and intercepted and read every message from the United States military. And yet the United States had begun a systematic purging of the Navajo culture, forcing young Navajo children to boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their own language. The irony!

Sara Hoagland Hunter depicts this story in a way that small boys can relate to and Julia Miner’s gorgeous illustrations make the book come alive.

I am hosting the first book club so I thought I would have the boys read the book at home. It’s too long to read aloud during the book club. The activity would be to create their own code. Next, they would have to work together to crack a message of code that I create. When they follow the clues (all coded of course!), they will come to a hidden prize.

I think I will also have them make their own messages using invisible ink made from baking soda.

  1. Mix equal parts water and baking soda.
  2. Use a cotton swab, toothpick, or paintbrush to write a message onto white paper, using the baking soda solution as ‘ink’.
  3. Allow the ink to dry.
  4. One way to read the message is to hold the paper up to a heat source, such as a light bulb. The baking soda will cause the writing in the paper to turn brown.
  5. A second method to read the message is to paint over the paper with purple grape juice. The message will appear in a different color.

I might also share some links for them to view:

1. This is the official site of the Navajo Code Talkers. You can also donate to them. I might show them the website and see if they want to come up ways to raise money to donate to them.

2. Here’s a great site to make your own Secret Code Wheel. You can print this out on heavy paper.  Be sure not to cut off the black triangle. Have the child choose where the black triangle lines up, and then match up the letters in each circle to create the code. The key is to know where the black triangle line up!

Cypher Wheel

3. For very advanced decoders who can’t get enough AFTER the book club, I’d steer them here to a Cryptography site where there are all kinds of different kinds of secret code strategies.

4. Finally, here’s a link to the Navajo language.

To view the book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.



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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Ann

    Thanks for sharing this great young boys book club selection and activity! I am sure they will love the code breaking activity!

    I love the hybrid reading level idea too!

    • To Ann,
      I’m so glad you liked it. The boys in my son’s book club were intrigued by codes and code breaking and I was glad that they learned about the Navajo heroes of WWII.

  2. Alison

    This is impressive and inspiring. I have a 7 yr old son, too. I have been hosting a monthly book club for his older sister (about seven 5th grade girls each month) but was uncertain about how it would go over with younger boys – and then feeling guilty that I treat my children differently! This sounds like a great book too – I’m always looking for alternatives to the Star Wars series with him! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • To Alison,
      You are so welcome! I am going to post more on book clubs for boys because there seems to be less out there than for girls. I am also going to try to add an active component to the activity because I think boys need and like that! Let me know what you do as well because I’d love to share ideas!

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