Secrets at Sea
Written by Richard Peck
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Whimsical and unpretentious, this tale has the reader believing that mice really do think like humans. Set in the late 19th century, this is a story about a mouse family who know where their bread is buttered and who do their best to help their human family. When the humans plan a trip to Europe to help their daughter find a husband, three mouse sisters and their mouse brother decide their best chance for survival is to go along, even though they’re terrified of water. Poor Helena, the oldest, is stuck with the job of getting her siblings where they need to go, helping the humans, and dealing with some very bad incidents. She is nearly flipped into the ocean during a safety drill, thrown through the air into a man’s pocket during a royal reception, chased by a one-eyed cat, and squashed by the sweets in a young boy’s bed. Mousely romance dominates the end of the story, but it’s so well done, kids may not even notice. The fact that Helena survives all this is testament to her perseverance and heart.
Murphy’s illustrations are perfect additions to the tale, helping to give life to Helena and her family.
Third graders can easily follow the mouse adventures. As in his other work, Peck includes many plays on words and running gags, allowing kids to play with the language they are still learning. Meanwhile, teachers will recognize that reading activities related to the history of the Hudson Valley, the Victorian Era, and the British monarchy can develop from the pages.