Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Secrets at Sea Audio

Secrets at Sea Audio

Richard Peck
For ages 8 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Listening Library, 2012   ISBN: 978-0307968265

There are two families living in a house. There is the “Upstairs” (human) Cranston family (who came from Cleveland), and there is the mouse Cranston family, the members of which live behind the walls of the house. Mice have been living in this area for a long time. The ancestors of the Cranston mice were living here when the Dutch sailed up the Hudson River, and they were here when the British arrived, bringing tea and taxation without representation with them.

Now the comfortable life of the Cranston mice has been horribly disrupted. The human Cranstons have decided that they need to go to Europe to find Olive Cranston a husband. None of the young men in the area are interested in marrying her, and apparently European young men are less fussy, especially if the young lady in question has money.

Helena mouse, her younger sister Beatrice, and their little brother Lamont do not care much about what the Cranstons are going to do, but Louise, Helena’s other little sister, does. Louise and young Camilla Cranston have developed a curious friendship. Though they belong to different species, they are fond of one another.

Helena, as head of the family, is not sure what to do, so she consults Aunt Fannie, the local wise woman. From the old mouse she learns that Louise is not the only one in trouble. Lamont is out of control, “wilder than the wind,” and Beatrice is having nighttime assignations with the local bad boy mouse. To save her family, Helena is going to have to get them away to somewhere new. Which is why, when the Upstairs Cranstons set off for London, in England, so do the mice.

Rattling around in a steamer trunk, the mice have a miserable time of it until at last they are alone in Camilla’s cabin on the ship. They barely have time to get their bearings when Nigel, a white mouse, turns up. He is a “steward” he says, and he quickly shows the American mice what to expect on a British ship. Helena, who had thought that life on the ship would be very rough, finds herself in the middle of a very sophisticated mouse society, one where rank matters, and one that is presided over by a mouse duchess who is from England. To say that Helena feels that she is over her head (and ears) is an understatement. To make matter worse, the duchess makes it clear that she thinks that Helena and her family have to help the Upstairs Cranstons, who are not coping very well. Somehow, the mice are going to have to help the Upstairs Cranstons find a suitable husband for Olive.

Listeners will find it hard not to get caught up in the adventure that the four little mice and their four humans share. There is so much that the mice need to know and to learn, and together they stumble around making all kinds of mistakes.

With humor and great sensitivity, Richard Peck gets inside the heart of his narrator, Helena, showing us through her what true courage is, and helping us to appreciate how important it is to learn how to adapt to changing situations.

In her narrative, Jayne Entwistle perfectly captures Helena’s strong and determined personality, showing to get effect that Helena is, if nothing else, a survivor.