Here’s a little story:
But I really loved this very funny book, Peck’s animal fantasy / comedy of manners — an illustrated novel with art from Kelly Murphy. I read it out loud to my young daughters, and we all enjoyed it (though, I have to say, I think they’d get even more of the sophisticated humor in it when they’re a bit older). So, when I sat down today to post about it—I’ve got some of the book’s interior art to showcase today, as well as a few words from Kelly about what it was like to illustrate this and some of her early sketches—I really figured this post would come well after the book’s release. But, no, I see here that it’s scheduled to be released in mid-October.
I have mentioned many times before here at 7-Imp that I’m incredibly disorganized, right? When it comes to blogging, that is. I think a 7-Imp Administrative Assistant would do me well. I’d give this person all the coffee he or she wants, too. I mean, Alfred is handy, and he does tell those wicked funny knock-knock jokes, but between me, you, and the cyberspace gatepost, he dozes a lot on the job.
You see, it’s the late 19th century in the Hudson Valley region of New York, and there’s this family of mice — Helena (the big sister) and her three younger siblings, Louise, Beatrice, and unruly Lamont. These mice live inside the walls of the Cranston home. The Cranstons, a bit desperate to marry off their socially awkward daughter, Olive, plan to sail to Europe to find her a husband. This is what Louise hears through the walls in chapter one of the book, and needless to say, she and her family are a bit shaken by the news: “Water is not a happy subject with us,” Beatrice, our trusty narrator, tells us. (The children’s mother and sister met their untimely deaths in a rain barrel.) But, facing their fears, they stow away on the ship, sailing over the Atlantic Ocean to London, after Helena visits Aunt Fannie Fenimore, “the wisest mouse in both Westchester and Dutchess counties. Though she was no picnic to be around.” Aunt Fannie has a crystal ball (pictured above). And Aunt Fannie tells her: “Here is how you hold your family together,” putting out both her old hands and stretching them open wide.
I don’t want to be spoiler-riffic here (I guess I should add for the very sensitive that some of the featured illustrations below can be spoiler-esque in nature), so I’ll just say they have many adventures on the ship, deciding to help their human counterparts in finding love. There’s a cat on the ship; Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee; a mouse with a tail that is “pure poetry”; lots of string quartets and hopping onto swishy skirts in order to get around with their humans and plan their interventions; some very funny attempts on the part of Lamont to speak in a Cockney dialect; a Duchess of Cheddar Gorge; and the spiffy Lord Peter Henslow, mouse equerry to Lord Peter (the human version). There may or may not be royal weddings involved. (Rodent or human? OR BOTH? I won’t tell.)
This is a briskly-paced tale and is laugh out loud funny in many spots. “Peck must have had a blast writing this,” says the Kirkus review. “Whimsical language, sure characterization, unflagging adventure, even romance—all seen through Helena’s relentlessly practical beady little eyes … Sheer delight.” That pretty much nails it. It is an entertaining read, complete with Peck’s subtle, wink-wink humor.
Don’t let any possible ennui with all the many mouse books out there right now turn you away from this one. As the publisher likes to tell you (and they’re right), this is Peck at his most playful.
Kelly Murphy is stopping by today to share some of the art in the book—which is full of humor and spunk and is a wonderful complement to the text (never overpowering, yet stands on its own)—and I thank her. Here’s what she had to say about working on it:
When this adorable story came across my desk, I was very excited to create the whole world that the mice family lived in. I knew this project would involve a healthy amount of research, but enough creative freedom to imagine the details of the mouse world. Richard Peck’s words are so lush with setting and emotion; it was impossible not to be inspired. Taking a more realistic approach than my picture book work, I loved being able to keep some of the more animalistic qualities of the mice. I am just thankful that my mother had a strange amount of reference books which featured turn of the century ocean liners. Serendipitous!
Enjoy the art …
the mood/location in each chapter,” adds Kelly.
SECRETS AT SEA. Copyright © 2011 by Richard Peck. Illustration © 2011 by Kelly Murphy. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, New York.
All images used with permission of Kelly Murphy.
Quoted excerpts taken from an advance reading copy and are subject to change.