Thursday, June 3, 2010
Read Aloud Thursday: A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
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!"