July 23, 2012

The Cod's Tale

THE COD'S TALE by Mark Kurlansky; Illustrated by S.D. Schindler (G.P. Putnam, 2001)
GENRE: Nonfiction / History
HONORS: Orbis Pictus Award

REVIEW: Every aspect of The Cod's Tale has been carefully chosen and meticulously executed, making this a surprisingly interesting mediation on history, zoological science and environmentalism all filtered through the lens of that most unglamorous of fish, the cod. Kurlansky's voice is straightforward and frank, crediting the reader with interest and intelligence without lapsing into didacticism. Schindler's watercolor illustrations are humorous and appealing in their detail, while the maps and timelines compliment and support the text. In addition to a wide range of well-chosen facts, Kurlansky also includes side bars with supplementary quotes, stories and even recipes, drawing the reader further along into the narrative of the cod's once robust presence in the oceans to the species' desperately dwindling numbers. Even more impressive is the fact that Kurlansky manages to convey the global import of this under-considered fish through structure alone. By opening with the cod's place in the oceanographic hierarchy and then narrowing down to the history of how humans have used the fish before widening one again to ponder the environmental impact of overfishing, Kurlansky gives import and interest to a topic that would not, intuitively, have either.

OPINION: Although The Cod's Tale is, ostensibly, a picture book, the level of detail and thought that has gone into it's making elevates it to the level of any nonfiction chapter book, and certainly above most textbooks, based on interest alone. A book that demands thought and consideration, it is still an accessible and engrossing read while being undeniably informative.

IDEAS: A good addition to Earth Day or oceanographic displays. Also a strong suggestion for students interested in topics on environmental impact and the history and influence of food in western culture (and particularly in America).

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