The Messenger Bird – Learning about code breaking in a good story

I find that I am often reading adventure stories about war, spies and crime. It goes with the territory working in a boy’s school and it is interesting how often things link up or coincide. Recently I watched a great 3-part series, “The Bletchley Circle“, about 4 women in post-war Britain, who are linked through their work together at Bletchley Park during  the war. It is a crime thriller that has these women back together working on clues to track down a serial killer. Last week I picked up the next book in my pile of  holiday “to-read” books. It was entitled “The Messenger Bird. I started reading and found it too was linked to Bletchley Park and the work done there in World War II.

The Messenger Bird - EasthamThis is the first book I have read by Ruth Eastham and I appreciate how she intertwines a modern-day narrative with historical ideas and events in a very seamless way. Nathan, the main character, is very ordinary and likeable as are his friends and the rest of his family.

The story starts when Nathan’s dad is arrested for breaking the Official Secrets Act. He works for the Ministry of Defence and is accused of leaking top-secret information. As he is dragged into a police car he leaves Nathan a message, or rather a riddle to solve. He must to solve this first riddle, then find and work out subsequent clues if he is to save his dad from a life in prison.

Nathan and his family have recently moved into a house owned by a great Aunt fascinated by WWII. There is memorabilia throughout the house. The clues Nathan is given lead him to another mystery that was started by Lily Kenley, a Bletchley Park employee in the 1940s, who stayed in the house during the war and then disappeared suddenly.  The messages, given to Nathan by his dad, follow a path left by Lily and take him on a journey around his local area and finally to Bletchley Park.

Nathan is sworn to secrecy but his friends, Sasha and Josh, learn about his quest early on and are determined to help. He has to be careful as his father indicated there are traitors in the Ministry. There certainly seems to be someone watching his every move and listening in on his conversations. With the help of his friends, Nathan must solve the mystery before the Ministry of Defence figures out what he is up to and the evidence of his father’s innocence disappears.

It is a good story for younger readers upper primary / lower secondary. The book very neatly incorporates mystery, history and adventure all into one story. The references to Bletchley Park, the Enigma code and the Coventry Blitz are fascinating. The Coventry Cathedral’s ruin is incorporated into the cover.

For those who have had their appetite whetted by the story there is a short reference section a the back for any reader who wants to know more about Bletchley Park or the Enigma code. There are many internet sites where you can find more information. I like the Bletchley Park site and for more information, with further useful links, you could go to Breaking Germany’s Enigma Code and Bletchley Park on the BBC site. These are good educational sites where the readers of the book could find information they could easily understand. There are also  some good videos on Code Breaking (World War 2) (History site)

There is also a simple explanation of the Enigma Machine in the you tube video below

Wikipedia’s reliability validated

Following on from the article about Veropedia compared to Wikipedia, I was investigating more about each. I stumbled on to an article about Wikipedia in 48 Hours on Wikipedia posted by Kent Anderson. He discussed the finding af a study in First Monday. This quick but effective small study analyzed how quickly errors in Wikipedia are picked up and corrected. The author of the study, P. D. Magnus, introduced incorrect information (called “fibs”) into some Wikipedia articles about famous philosophers. He then waited to see how long it took for the errors to be corrected.

The study showed that Wikipedia’s methods for checking for small inaccuracies are validated. The answer to the question “how quickly are errors picked up?”, is that they are found and dealt with expediently. Some errors were corrected within/around 2 hours. Within 48 hours, those that had not been corrected, had been flagged as needing adjustment.

When Wikipedia first began many teachers, teacher librarians and librarians spoke out about the validity of something like Wikipedia. There were many who were very sceptical about how reliable such a resource could be. I did not have a problem with students using Wikipedia, although I believe that for many younger students many articles become too much for them. I believe, as always, all material should be checked from several sources anyway. The results from this study provide more than just anecdotes about the reliability of Wikipedia articles.