Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Dreamy, visual vacation unfolds in sweet beach tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Part of the story deals with a trip to a wildlife rescue center, where Alix helps care for an injured hawk and the girls learn a lot about nature. In another scene, Alix and her dad encounter horseshoe crabs. Lots of detail about beach life, like walking along the shoreline,  catching and eating shellfish, avoiding hazardous waves, and how to escape when your friends bury you in the sand and run off.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of warmth, safety, and home, surrounded by loving family and friends. Quietly understated messages of diversity in the illustrations (Alix is white and geeky, Nessa is black and outgoing; they bond over gymnastics), as well as gentle life lessons, as when the girls' parents' casino night leaves them strapped for cash when they have several flat tires the next day. Respect for nature and wildlife are strong themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alix and Jools have different interests, but they share a loving relationship with their parents and each other. Landlady Mrs. Kerr shows a lot of funny, quiet wisdom (as when, to teach the kids the dangers of gambling, she wins all their Goldfish crackers in a card game), and her granddaughter Nessa is a good friend and possible "secret sister" to Alix.

Violence & Scariness

Scary moments happen, like being knocked over by a wave, but rarely last more than a moment before an adult comes to the rescue. The girls' mother announces she's going to "brain" their father after a tanning mishap.


A kid exclaims, "Holy crap!" Reference to "bums," as in the water rising above the kids' bums.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea, written and illustrated by Newbery Medal winner Lynne Rae Perkins, is a sweet, dreamy tale of a young family's first beach vacation. As with the award-winning Criss Cross, there's not much in the way of plot or exciting developments; it's more a series of visual and emotional snapshots of what it feels like to spend a week at the beach when you're a kid. Any danger that looms, from sneaker waves to sibling rivalry, is quickly overcome, usually by wise and timely parenting. While the reading level is 8 and up, this is an excellent read-aloud book for younger kids also, as the illustrations, vivid descriptions, and kids'-perspective experiences are engaging and fun.

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What's the story?

This is the tale of siblings Alix (younger) and Jools (older and more "mature") and how their family's first beach vacation turns them into SECRET SISTERS OF THE SALTY SEA. As the narrative meanders along, each day brings a new discovery -- horseshoe crabs, building sand castles, making new friends, trying new foods. Also a few laughs along the way.

Is it any good?

Sweet, dreamy, often funny, Newbery Award-winning author/illustrator Lynne Rae Perkins' family-at-the-beach story evokes a lazy summertime vibe and a safe, loving world of family, friends, and nature. If you're looking for action-packed adventure, Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea is not for you. But if you've never built a sand castle or released a falcon into the wild, young protagonist Alix's experiences will give you a vivid sense of what that's like.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about vacations at the beach. Have you ever spent a few days at the seashore? What was it like? Did you do things like the family does in Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea, or something completely different?

  • Alix and Jools are surprised when the beach isn't at all tropical, but turns out to be pretty great anyway. Have you ever had an image in your mind of how something was going to be, and then it was completely different? Did you like the way things turned out, or hate it?

  • Have you ever been to a wildlife rescue center? What kinds of animals did you see? Which ones did you like best?

Book details

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