Children’s Book Review: A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

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About the Book

A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of HomeTitle: A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home

Author: Henry Cole

Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Celeste is not your average mouse. She lives alone, quietly weaving baskets with creative flair under the floor boards of the Oakley Plantation. However, Celeste’s world turns upside down with the arrival of the great naturalist John James Audubon and his assistant Joseph, who have come to study and paint the birds of the Louisiana bayou. Their arrival coincides with Celeste’s sudden displacement from her home below to a guest room upstairs. There she watches young Joseph struggle to create the backgrounds for Audubon’s bird paintings. As the two homesick souls strike up a friendship, the mouse secretly puts her artistic skills to good use; she simultaneously helps Joseph improve his compositions while aiding the wounded birds that Audubon captures for his studies. Nearly every page of author-illustrator Henry Cole’s fine novel combines text and remarkable drawn images to tell the story of a mouse in need of a home of her own from the tiny creature’s unique vantage point.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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My Thoughts

This adorable book took me completely by surprise in the best way! Based loosely on the historical fact that John James Audubon did spend time at a plantation in Louisiana in the 1800s, we follow tiny Celeste (a mouse) through about a year of her life. Audubon himself is a fairly minor character; while is presence shapes the narrative, it is his fictional assistant, Joseph, who becomes Celeste’s friend and is featured more prominently.

Most of the pages include black-and-white illustrations; the words on the page weave around the images they describe in an engaging and complimentary fashion. Both the illustrations and the story itself are very fun for the most part. There are some elements which make this book better suited for a mid- to late-elementary audience rather than early elementary, such as the death of a rat who is caught by the cat and a tragic story about Celeste’s childhood. On the whole, however, the story is fun and not at all dark. Celeste makes several new friends, goes on adventures, and always comes home safe. The writing is reminiscent of some of my favorite authors from the era portrayed, including Gene Stratton-Porter and Louisa May Alcott.

I will mention that I found the ending disappointing. I won’t spoil it, and it did not ruin the book, I simply wished for something different to happen. So, be aware of that as you’re reading.

The Verdict

This juvenile historical fiction book earns five stars from me. The themes of friendship, trust, and creativity are well developed and fit nicely with the portrayal of Audubon even as the book tackles the complicated nature of his art. It doesn’t shy away from the pain caused to the animals, but it is presented in a way that should not be overwhelming to children. Celeste is such an innocent and empathetic character and I think that readers of all ages will enjoy following along with her. I recommend A Nest for Celeste to readers who enjoy historical fiction set in the 1800s, children’s books from an animal’s perspective, and simply good stories.

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Have you read any fun, comforting books lately? With my semester in high gear at the moment, I’m appreciating books that are more on the lighthearted side of things even more than usual. This week I’ve focused on children’s books featuring characters dealing with poverty, homelessness, and foster care, which are definitely worthwhile but are also require more mental energy.

Until the next chapter,

Jana

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