Secrets at Sea

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Publication: The Horn Book Magazine
Author: Smith, Robin L
Date published: September 1, 2011

* Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck; illus. by Kelly Murphy Intermediate Dial 241 pp. 10/11 978-0-8037-3455-5 $16.99 g

The rodent world meets Upstairs, Downstairs in this rollicking comedy of manners that begs to be read aloud. Downstairs, we have the observant, careful oldest mouse sister Helena and her quite-a-bit-less-prudent siblings, running around in the night with God knows whom. Upstairs, the social-climbing human Cranstons are in a swivet over the spinster status of oldest daughter Olive. The Cranstons decide to take an ocean voyage to Europe hoping to snag a husband for Olive, and Helena realizes that (Heaven forbid! All that water!) the mice will have to go, too. Peck's droll take on human and mouse society is exquisite. Through Helena's meticulous observadons, he notes everything from Mrs. Cranston's beefy shoulders to elderly mouse Aunt Fannies bald patches and lone tooth - all enhanced by hilariously upended clichés ("quiet as a mouse," "herding cats," "cat out of the bag") and by Murphy's dandy and detailed pencil illustrations that add just the right air of royalty. The story moves along at a fine pace, fueled by snarky but playful comments about the lack of taste of the Upstairs Cranstons (hayseeds in overpriced taffeta), Olive's debilitating seasickness, and the soap opera that a sea voyage is, whether one is a human or a mouse. In true soap opera style, each character's destiny is revealed in the dramatic final chapters. Older sisters, mice or not, will enjoy the exciting and romantic ending in which both Olive and Helena choose their own unexpected fritures. Won't those younger sisters be surprised? ROBIN L. SMITH

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