Thursday, June 3, 2010

Read Aloud Thursday: A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope Is the WordOccasionally, Amazon makes an interesting "you might also like" suggestion and I find a good book that I might have otherwise overlooked. Such is the case with A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home, a recently published children's book that is richly illustrated and a good choice for a read-aloud with a creative twist on history.
A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home
Let me elaborate on the richly illustrated part... The illustrations are all black and white pencil drawings, but there is hardly a page without a picture, and there are many full, two-page illustrations without text, too. This obviously helps to keep the little ones engaged and interested in the story, and it also makes the chapters read quickly, too. The illustrations are lifelike, but just whimsical enough for a talking animal story. Here are a couple of examples:

We thought he story itself to be a little slow-moving to begin with - my children did not start begging me to read just one more chapter until we were about halfway through. But once the characters and the plot are established it moves along well. Celeste is a field mouse who has taken up residence under the floorboards of a Southern plantation. She has the unusual skill of weaving baskets from dried grasses, and she uses her baskets to gather crumbs and other tidbits from the dining room. After a dangerous encounter with the cat, Celeste clambers upstairs and takes refuge in a boot. That boot belongs to Joseph, a boy who is assisting John James Audubon in painting the birds of Louisiana during the summer and fall of 1821. A frightened Celeste is eventually won over by Joseph's kindness (and peanuts) and becomes his little friend. She in turn befriends several birds who are captured as specimens for Audubon's drawings. Celeste learns that friendship has its risks - both in acts of kindness and in saying goodbye - but its value is priceless.

An epilogue explains the historical events and persons who form the framework for the story, and I was pleased with the historical accuracy of the people and places. Of course, history from a mouse's perspective always has a bit of poetic license, but if mice and birds could communicate with each other and deliberately plan their lives, this is likely how it could have happened.

Some of the descriptions of hunting and Audubon's typical practice of killing, posing, and mounting the birds that he paints (a fate from which Celeste saves her bird friends) could be a little traumatic for young children, so parents might want to read ahead to see if some sections should be paraphrased for sensitive ears. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't more interplay between Celeste's basket weaving and the artistic endeavors of Audubon and Joseph, but the author seems to have chosen a more realistic portrayal of the human interactions with animals, while only the animals do unusual things like talking to one another and reasoning. Overall, however, it was a creative story with a little bit of history and adventure and a satisfying, if slightly bittersweet ending. At any rate, it earned the approval of my daughter, age 6, who saw the image as I was writing this post and exclaimed, "Can we order it again? I love it!"


Carrie said...

I saw this book...I forget where...but I passed it up. Now I'm kinda wishing I had picked it up. I do appreciate the warning though about the killing aspect. Thanks for the head's up!

Brimful Curiosities said...

This is the second review I've read about this title and both have been pretty positive. The other review was by a nine-year old on

My daughter always wants to see the illustrations in chapter books and this one sounds like it has many.

monica @ paper bridges said...

what a lovely book! thanks for recommending, I'm going to look for it

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This sounds like a book my girls would enjoy! Thanks for linking to Read Aloud Thursday! :-)