Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Down to the Sea in Ships

Peck, Richard. Secrets at Sea.
Publication date 13 October 2011. ARC received from Dial Books.

Helena, a mouse, and her two sisters and small brother live a quiet life with the Cranston family in Cleveland in 1887. When the family decides to go to London to try to find a husband for Olive, the mice decide to go along even though they hate the water. On board, they are quickly made at home by Nigel, a mouse steward who has the brother work for him, and the Duchess of Cheddar Gorge, who is concerned that Helena's humans are not behaving in a way that will accomplish their goals. Life at sea has it's moments of adventure, but the main concern is the social life of the people and the mice. In the end, both Olive and her sister find suitors, and the mouse family also find various occupations as the result of the trip.

Strengths: For me to make it all the way to the end of a talking mouse book and enjoy it is something. I've been hankering for Marjorie Sharp's Miss Bianca for a while, ever since seeing Sean Ashby's Basil of Baker Street reimagined cover, and this was a worthy successor. The book is very graphically pleasing, with good spacing of the print and fine pictures, although Mr. Ashby's would have been even better!
Weaknesses: I've been trying to get Warriors fans to read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH with no success; even Redwall has been a hard sell. I know that mice have been a hot topic lately; Voigt came out with Young Fredle, and Lowry has Bless This Mouse, but it just must be something that younger students like. Also, it would be nice if publishers would print the e mail of the person to whom I should send the review link.

Korman, Gordon. Unskinkable: Titanic Book One
Several young people from widely disparate backgrounds end up on the Titanic: Paddy was a street criminal who ran afoul of a gang and saw his best friend beaten to death, Sophie is the embarrassed daughter of an outspoken suffragette, Alfie lies about his age in order to work on the ship and be near his father, and Juliana is a daughter of privilege. The four interact on the ship; we know that disaster is coming, but they don't! I can't wait until Collision Course and S.O.S. come out!

Strengths: There have been a lot of books coming out about the Titanic, since it is the 100th anniversary of its sinking, and it is a topic that is always interesting to middle school students. Korman's short, three book series like Island and Dive are really brilliant; they essentially trick children into reading a much longer book, just broken up into sections!
Weaknesses: I should have waited to buy this until the entire series was out, because students will be bugging me for the next volumes!


  1. Anonymous10:30 AM EDT

    My favorite Titanic story is Richard Peck's Ghosts I have Been, though technically it isn't about the Titanic. But Richard Peck is one of my all time favorite authors, so anything he does is going to be a favorite. I am eagerly awaiting Secrets at Sea

  2. Anonymous12:25 PM EDT

    Good reviews. I had no idea there were so many talking mouse books, but when I think back...Stuart Little, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Tale of Depereaux... and those are just off the top of my head. I'm sure you could add to the list.