Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Secrets at Sea, written by Richard Peck. Dial, Penguin. 2011. $19.50 ages 8 and up
Two of my forever favorite authors wrote stories this year about mice. Cynthia Voigt told her story of Young Fredle (Knopf 2011), and Lois Lowry did the same in Bless This Mouse (Thomas Allen, 2011). They were both wonderful stories and ones I have shared in many booktalks and workshops since reading them.
Now, another of those authors whose work I long to read...Richard Peck...has followed in their footsteps to tell his story of the two Cranston families. The human Cranstons live Upstairs while the mouse family Cranston lives Downstairs. It's the late 1800s and they are about to embark on a journey that will bring great change to both houses.
The Upstairs Cranstons are newly rich, and slightly gauche. They are preparing to set sail for England in hopes of finding their gawky, older daughter a suitable mate. The Downstairs Cranstons, on the advice of their incomparable neighbor Aunt Fannie, decide to take that same voyage:
""We sailed away to London, England, Louise and Beatrice, Lamont and I. We began our journey by steamer trunk -- that biggest trunk that had stood open for days in Camilla's bedroom, filling up with her new finery. It had drawers inside."
Helena is our narrator. She is the oldest of the four, and often seems disapproving of her younger siblings.
Sister Louisa has some chutzpah and has managed to establish a connection with Camilla, the younger of the two Upstairs Cranston daughters. She and Camilla have become confidantes through Louisa's nocturnal visits to Camilla's bedroom. Beatrice is rarely heard from, and appears to be quite cautious and fearful. And, as happens with younger brothers, Lamont creates chaos wherever he goes (I speak from experience). He collects anything he finds collectible, eats inelegantly, misses school and takes chances that no big sister would dream of taking. What a bother of a brother!
They are off on a voyage to England to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and to look for a suitor for Olive beyond their own shores. Who knows what trouble could befall the human Cranstons should the rodent Cranstons decide not to accompany them? I guess you need to read this imaginative and thrilling tale to discover their fates...one and all! It's a great Christmas readaloud for the whole family.
While cats do not fare well in this mice-inspired story, Richard Peck's humor remains distinct and priceless. I want to share a few of my favorite quotes with you:
"By the time the sun of that last morning crept across Camilla's sleeping form, we were hunkered, lurking within the drawers. Beatrice and Louise and I were nose to nose to nose, under the lacy edges of Camilla's handkerchiefs. It was a small drawer. There wasn't room to swing a ... cat."
or this one:
"We dropped, and landed on our feet. We always do. There on the carpet was Lamont, cool as a cucumber, as it we'd taken ages. We huddled, and I tried to keep us together, but it was like herding ... cats."
"I only hoped he'd learned his lesson about chasing mice, or at least me. But you can't knock sense into a cat. People think cats are wise and have deep thoughts. They don't. But they do have nine lives, which is too bad."
And finally, Helena remembers a lesson learned while visiting Aunt Fannie that gives her some peace and contentment as her siblings find lives of their own:
"I remember the day I'd gone to her through the hedge to learn about our futures. I recalled her extending both her old hands stretched wide. "This is how you hold on to your family," she had said.
"You hold them with open hands so that they are free to find futures of their own. It's just that simple."