Friday, October 19, 2012

The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova

Military tactics of the Nazis when conquering countries was an early morning blitz attack from the sky by the Luftwaffe, dropping bombs cities, towns and villages to assert their power and scare people, followed by an invasion of foot soldiers who took over everything while folks were still stunned.  That is exactly what the Nazis did on the morning of April 9, 1940 in Denmark and Norway.

Mary Casanova's novel, The Klipfish Code, begins just this way.  In a small village in Norway, the blitz bombing has just woken up 10 year old Marit Gundersen and her family, giving them no time to even get down to the cellar for shelter.  When it is all over, the house is in shambles, and beloved heirlooms destroyed.   It doesn't take long for Marit's parents to decide to send her and her young brother Lars to live with their Aunt Ingeborg, a teacher, and their Bestefar, a grandfather with whom Marit does not like or get along.

As the summer days go by, the German presence increases all around Norway, including the small fishing island where they are now living, but luckily for Marit, she soon meets Hanna, a girl her age and the two become best friends.  And, though Bestefar is a fisherman, Marit is kept busy with chores on the small farm he owns.   Marit assumes she and Lars will go home to begin school when September arrives, but she is told they will be staying put and will go to school there.  Aunt Ingeborg is Marit and Hanna's teacher.

Meanwhile, Marit notices that Bestefar is away on his fishing trawler more and more frequently, and for days at a time, which is fine with her since it means she doesn't have to put up with his constant criticism.  But when he is home, and Marit watches as he submissively hands over milk, cheese, eggs and any other food as their "donation" to the German soldiers, leaving barely anything to the family to live on, she gets angrier and angrier at his lack of Norwegian spirit.

After all, as Marit notices, other Norwegians are surreptitiously showing their solidarity to Norwary, to King Haakan VII, forced to flee during the invasion, and to the Resistance by wearing a paper clip or drawing the H7 enclosed in a V for victory*.  What's wrong with Bestefar, that he doesn't do anything?  Even when the Germans arrest Aunt Ingeborg in the middle of class one day for defying one of their order, he remains submissive.  And why don't her parents write more frequently, after all she hasn't seen them in two years, now?  What are they doing?  Marit is full of anger, but also frustrated that she can't do anything to help Norway.

That is until the day she races out of the house after angry words with Bestefar and stumbles on a young man who has been shot by the Germans and who turns out to be a Resistance worker.  Though he is seriously injured, Marit, now12, manages to get him to the loft in Bestefar's barn to hide, but she is finally forced to ask Hanna's mother, a nurse, to come look at him.  Near death, Henrik asks Marit to complete his mission for him: delivering a compasss to a house in another village and to tell them she needs a bucketful of Klipfish.  It is a dangerous journey, not just because Marit would be drawn into Resistance activities, but the weather is against her as well as her own strength needed row a boat through treacherous waters.  And worse, she would have to take Lars with her and put him in danger, too.

Now, given this opportunity to do something against the Nazis,  does Marit have the courage to act on her convictions.  Can she do what she believes Bestefar can't do?

There are two common threads running through all the WWII books I have read for children, teens and adults.  The first thread is that each story, real or imagined, is unique.  This may be due to the fact that so many are based on real events and in real life, everyone experiences the same event differently.  The second tread is that no matter how different the story, a some point the protagonist will be asked to do something they didn't think they were capable of.  And yet, so often, they do what they must, even when they are afraid, and at great risk.  Sometimes they live to tell the tale and sometimes they die, but either way they act, they do something to sabotage the Nazis - even something as seemingly small as delivering a coded message concealed in a compass.

The Klipfish Code is told from Marit's point of view, so we are privy only to her thoughts, observations and conclusions.  And the reader can watch her process as she begins to feel she needs to do something to thwart the Nazis in some way, and to demonstrate her loyalty to Norway.  It isn't enough to just hate Nazis, that would make Marit too much like them.  So, what we really see is how fear, determination, conviction and courage coalesce in Marit, and result to action.  And that is what makes this such a great middle-grade novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Because The Klipfish Code offers such wonderful teachable aspects of WWII, there is a Teaching Guide available here.

* Here is the symbol of loyalty to King Haakan used all over Norway during the Nazi occupation.  It consists of the king's monogram with Churchill's V for victory added.  This particular image come from the Teaching Guide.


  1. I’ve said this before but I just have to say it again – you find THE most interesting books. The problem is finding the time to read them all, most of my TBR books are those recommended by you.

  2. Thanks, Barbara, I know what you mean about finding time though. Sometimes, between work and life, I wonder if I am going to have a post sometimes (I do try to keep some in reserve). I thought this book would be an interesting follow up to Princess Elizabeth's Spy since they both feature codes, so important in a war.

  3. It's in 3rd person not by Marit

    1. Actually, I said it was written from Marit's point of view, which is different from the 1st person. The reader experiences things as Marit does and from her perspective.