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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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."
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Helena's sister Beatrice is undoubtedly boy-crazy, and this is a source of some worry, but there is no dwelling on unseemly details.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.