Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Cod's Tale

The Cod's Tale

Mark Kurlansky
Illustrator:  S. D. Schindler 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 12
Penguin, 2001   ISBN: 978-0399234767

You may think that this is a crazy idea, but the cod (yes the fish) has a story worth hearing. In this very unique book, Mark Kurlansky not only tells us about the biology of this often large and ugly looking creature but, more importantly perhaps, he describes how the cod has influenced humans for hundreds of years.

It began with the Vikings who built ships that were able to go out far into the Atlantic. There they found schools of cod and they soon discovered that these fish dried well and were an excellent source of food. With dried cod stored on their ships the Vikings were able to venture out into the Atlantic until they reached Iceland, then Greenland, and from there to North America.

The Vikings taught others how to built ocean worthy ships including the Basques. These resourceful people not only found the cod’s feeding grounds, but they also took to salting their catch and selling it to people all over Europe. Now, one no longer had to live by the sea to be able to eat salt water fish. Salting worked well for once the fish was cleaned of the preserving salt, its flesh was flaky and good to eat.

The Basques were not able to keep their cod fishing grounds a secret for long and soon others were fishing for cod. Cod became a delicacy for many people and many recipes were created for its preparation. The big cod fishing grounds off the northern coast of New England gave settlers who came to that part of America the means to make to a good living and cod fish became a staple in the New England diet.

No doubt the cod fisherman of the past thought that the cod fisheries would last forever. They never imagined that these fisheries would one day be fished by ships made of metal which could catch thousands of fish every day and which could freeze the catch soon after it was landed. Today cod are in danger of being fished out of existence and efforts are being made to protect this vital creature which has such a colorful history.

Is this title Mark Kurlansky manages to make what should be a dull topic highly interesting and entertaining. Based on his adult book about cod and the fish’s impact on world history, this work of non-fiction will capture the interest of readers of all kinds. The main story is sprinkled with quotes, recipes and more, some of which were written centuries ago. Among other things readers will learn how to cook cod and how it was prepared by people who lived long ago.

Beautifully illustrated throughout, this is a unique work of non-fiction.