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Secrets at Sea - Richard Peck, Kelly Murphy

Reviewed from an ARC.

4.5 Stars—4.5 tending towards 5 stars (so, I'll give it a 5)! I know what you’re thinking—I’ve wondered about it myself: What’s this crank doing reading a children’s book—a GENRE-children’s book at that? I can tell you, and I will: when a friend sends you an ARC of a Richard Peck book, and if you’ve made your living working with children’s books, AND did I mention it was a Richard Peck book (?)—well Goodreaders, you stop what you’re doing, pick up the Peck (alliteration is your friend), and read for all it’s worth—because it’s worth a lot.

Peck is one of those rare writers whose accomplishments are too numerous to mention (wiki him—in children’s literature, he’s earned his legendary status). More importantly, to me at least, he’s one of those authors who not only writes for children, he actually cares about the young people who read his work—that may sound trivial, but when you’ve met some of these writers, accompanied them to conferences, signings, etc., you learn very quickly who appears one way to fans and those who buy their books then another way as he or she becomes Mr. (or Ms.) Hyde once they’re out of public sight. So there you have it—I like Mr. Peck, as an author and as a person.

With Secrets at Sea, Peck melds fantasy, historical fiction, humor, and adventure into a story perfect for younger readers (ages 9 to 12, or so). A family of mice (the Downstairs Cranstons) prepare to accompany their human family (the Upstairs Cranstons) on a European trip, the purpose of which is to ‘marry off’ the socially awkard Olive Cranston, the oldest of the two Cranston daughters. For the mice family (three sisters and a brother), the success of the trip is crucial because the fates of the mouse family and the Cranston family is necessarily intertwined. With Olive’s parents as socially challenged as Olive herself, the mice know they will have their work cut out for them and are willing to risk a dreaded sea voyage (mice are necessarily afraid of bodies of water having lost family members already to rain barrels) to contribute to the family’s success. The ship is bringing members of the royal family back to Britain for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. During the voyage, life for the mice parallels the experiences of the Cranston family complete with mice porters and stewards, the attention of royalty on the British ship, and gala dinners. The interactions of mice and humans provide humor, the families each have their intrapersonal foibles and surprises, and, ultimately, a great time is had by (almost) all—especially the reader.

Teachers and school librarians know what to expect from Peck; he has too much respect for the young people for whom he writes to compromise the trust placed in him when addressing children—no inappropriate language or situations—but be forewarned, Peck has been a teacher himself, and he’s definitely not adverse to using language that children will puzzle over (and some adults, like myself). If this book is a gift for a younger person in your life (and it would make a good one), consider giving them a dictionary as well. Happy reading.

Now, to return to the question posed at the beginning of this review: why is this crank reading a children’s book? I’ll explain it the same way I have since attempting to hide the cover of a Judy Blume title on a flight back from BookExpo (when it was still called ABA) while laughing like a moron—because of the work I’ve done, I can pick up any children’s title and call it my Professional Reading. There you have it.