Secrets at Sea
What parents need to know
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.
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.
Families can talk 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.