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BOOK REVIEWS, Historical Fiction, MAUD HART LOVELACE NOMINEE, Middle Grade Readers, Young Adult Readers

THE KLIPFISH CODE by Mary Casanova…2013-14 LOVELACE Nominee Division I

klipfish code

The Klipfish Code focuses on Marit Gundersen, a 10-year-old girl in 1940 when the Germans bomb her town of Isfjorden in Norway at the beginning of World War II.  The sudden German Occupation of Norway that followed the initial bombings is the backdrop for Marit’s story.

Marit and her younger brother Lars are sent out of the city to live with their maternal grandfather and aunt, Bestefar and Ingeborg Halversen, in Alesund, their mother’s childhood home.  Marit’s parents are trying to keep their children safe as they work for the Resistance against the Nazis.  Marit and Lars, of course, do not realize this when they are required to leave their home and their parents.  They feel resentful and abandoned–particularly Marit, as she believes Lars to be her grandfather’s favorite by a large margin.

In the beginning Marit doesn’t truly understand the danger in which her parents have put themselves and from which they are trying to protect her and Lars.  In the same way she perceives the German occupation that she can see in Alesund as unjust and constricting but does not fully comprehend the real dangers of defying the Nazis in even small ways.

The book paints a vivid picture of the shocking changes imposed on the Norwegian people when they are thrown into a state of War and Occupation.  Marit’s confusion over suddenly not being able to speak or act freely in an atmosphere now ruled by fear and the way she angrily chafes against it resonate with the truth of a ten-year-old girl’s perceptions.  Marit watches her Aunt Ingeborg stand against Nazi propaganda as a teacher despite the potential personal danger.  When a fellow student’s parents are revealed as informants for the Nazis the other children tell Marit she must “ice out” Olaf.  No one is to speak to him at all.  Marit observes that her aunt, however, who stands against the Nazis sometimes on a daily basis, has not altered the way she treats Olaf–with the same kindness and respect she shows to all students.  When she questions her about it Ingeborg replies to her:

You do have a choice, Marit….There are no easy answers these days.  All I know is that you must do what you believe is right–and so must I.

This becomes a vitally important exchange for Marit as she grows increasingly frustrated by what she sees as her grandfather’s cowardice and her aunt’s courage. Its truth becomes clear for her when she has her own test of courage, loyalty and doing what she believes is right.

Although I don’t anticipate this will be a popular choice for students’ Lovelace nominee choices without some sort of impetus in class it is a great read-aloud choice as a springboard for units on World War II, Norway, Norwegian culture, traditions and lifestyle in the early 20th century.   Once begun, the narrative builds steadily in suspense and dread but provides a satisfying reading experience in the end for all but the very young reader (and that simply because of the subject matter).  The tagline on the cover is Who do you trust? I think this is a misnomer.  The story is much more about perception of others’ motives and finding both inner strength and compassion in equal amounts at challenging times in life.

If you are interested in the Scandanavian Occupation during World War II, I highly recommend Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig (reviewed on mstamireads).  It’s based on Tolksvig’s father’s diary.  He was a young boy in Denmark at the time.  I learned a great deal about Denmark, its history and culture as well as giving a genuine voice to both the horror and the incredible courage and compassion of the time.


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