Secrets at Sea

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Secrets at Sea Book Poster Image
Great story, characters make mouse journey instant classic.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Secrets at Sea is lots of fun, but in the course of following its tale, young readers will pick up quite a bit of incidental knowledge about 19th century British and American society, not to mention shipboard life and a mouse's-eye view of Queen Victoria's royal court. Along the way they'll also be exposed to sophisticated vocabulary words such as "reticule."

Positive Messages

Bravery, cleverness, and family devotion conquer all in this tale of four 19th-century mouse siblings who face many perils in the course of an Atlantic crossing when their human family suddenly heads for Europe on a husband-hunting expedition. Helena, the oldest, must not only keep her own brother and sisters safe, which requires much ingenuity, wisdom, and social grace, but must also work with them to avert the social disasters waiting to befall their people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As the responsible, resourceful oldest sister who gathers all her courage to take her siblings across the ocean to save both them and their human family, Helena is a good role model with remarkable grace under pressure. Her sister Louise, whose friendship with the human girl Camilla causes Helena much anxiety, proves to be both a loyal friend and a quick thinker. And Camilla herself, in contrast to her embarrassingly gauche family, is graceful, kind, and sweet.


Since the protagonists are mice, they face mouse dangers, especially from predators such as cats and snakes, and have several narrow escapes. Some of their late family members have not been so lucky: Their mother and two sisters have drowned (causing the rest of the family to be terrified of water), while their father was devoured by a cat, all before the beginning of the book's events. Early on, brother Lamont loses half his tail to a snake. In a moment of turnabout, Helena's child benefactor saves her by bashing the pursuing cat on the head with a soldier-shaped nutcracker.


Helena's sister Beatrice is undoubtedly boy-crazy, and this is a source of some worry, but there is no dwelling on unseemly details.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the latest from Newbery Award winner Richard Peck is another gem. Its cute characters will appeal to younger kids, but there's enough substance and whimsy to the plot and characters to keep older kids amused and interested, as well. It's a good, lighthearted intro to Victoriania and some of the more arcane customs of the era.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9-year-old Written byvalley girl March 20, 2013

Lost Interest

My son started off loving this book and then towards the middle lost interest. There were parts that were very funny. However, the book seems to slow down and... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old January 30, 2012

Very Imaginative and Creative book for kids!

I really like how Helena, the oldest, is correcting not only Lamont on language but the readers of the book. This book is very educational on behalf the journey... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old January 22, 2012

An amazing book, that is very exciting!

Awesome! I think this book is good for kids 8 and up. A great book, with lots of positive role models. Girls might like it better than boys though. It's... Continue reading

What's the story?

Helena and her three siblings are the current representatives of a very old mouse family inhabiting the Cranston home in the Hudson River Valley. Sudden change looms when the Upstairs Cranstons (the humans), having failed to find a suitable young man for older daughter Olive, take the notion to sail for Europe in search of husband prospects willing to overlook her deficiencies in favor of Papa's money. As the oldest, Helena has other worries -- sister Louise insists on being friends with human Cranston Camilla (perilous, in the centuries-old relationship in which the human family tends not to know about its rodent counterpart), sister Beatrice is sneaking out at night to meet an undesirable boy, and brother Lamont is forever getting into life-threatening scrapes. After consulting the local mouse granny, she realizes there's nothing to be done but to pack up her little family in Camilla's trunk and stow away on the transatlantic voyage -- even though they're all mortally terrified of water -- in search of a better future for themselves and the human Cranstons, as well.

Is it any good?

SECRETS AT SEA is a great novel, with an inventive plot and ingenious characters who, despite being mice, are easy to relate to as they deal with their sibling issues. Younger kids who aren't quite at this reading level will still enjoy the characters, the story, and the cute illustrations, even though some nuances of the narration will go right by them. Older kids will love these details, from snarks at the boy-crazy Beatrice to the complicated protocols of being a faithful mouse retainer in the royal palace, unbeknownst to the actual royals involved.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about taking a voyage on an ocean liner. Does it sound like fun? What do you think would be the best part?

  • From a 21st century perspective, the notion of sailing to Europe to marry off one's daughter because of a lack of local prospects -- the impetus of the entire adventure -- may seem peculiar. Can you imagine your parents deciding who you should marry? Or going to another country to find a husband?

  • Do you think you'd like to go to a royal reception, or does it sound like way too much good behavior?

  • If Helena and her family lived now instead of in the time of Queen Victoria, how might their lives be different?

  • Helena and her family are constantly challenged to help their humans while dealing with the undeniable fact that most humans perceive them as vermin. Discuss the difficulties, psychological and otherwise.

Book details

Our editors recommend

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