(C) Ages 8-10, (D) Ages 10-12, Book Reviews, Family Read Alouds, Middle Grades
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A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home by Henry Cole.  HarperCollins, 2010, 336 pages.

Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-10 and up

Celeste lives in the wall of a Louisiana plantation house, where she weaves baskets of grass and any other material at hand—lately feathers.  But trouble looms when the resident rats conscript her to forage for them, leading to a run-in with the cat and exile from her home.  “What a palace I’ve lived in!” she marvels from the top of the stairs—a place she never appreciated until forced out of it.  In her quest for new lodgings, Celeste has her view expanded further, meets several creatures outside her experience, and becomes the shirt-pocket companion of Joseph, boy apprentice to John James Audubon.   Thrills, terrors and anxieties await, but her new home, though tinged with the sadness of separation, will be a place for her to create peace as well as baskets.

This is a gentle, meandering story with some lovely illustrations, like the double-page spread of Audubon and Joseph setting off on a journey under magnificent live oaks.  A bit of 21st Century moralism creeps in, such as Joseph’s response to men blasting away at clouds of passenger pigeons (now extinct), but for the most part we’re spared.  Young readers may decide for themselves what they think about Audubon killing and stuffing his birds before he painted them so exquisitely.  The story would be a good accompaniment to nature study, as Celeste encounters hollyhocks, sunflowers, several varieties of trees (live oak, poplar, cypress, dogwood), and birds: osprey, thrush, and Carolina parakeet (also extinct).  Simple pleasures and beauties abound: “The wood thrush then lifted its head and let loose a startlingly clear warble that resonated throughout the room.”  Nature can be terrifying–“Each as big as her ear, the drops fell from the black sky like spears”–but Celeste eventually finds a place within four walls for herself.

Cautions: None

Overall rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4.5
  • Artistic value: 4.5

Categories: Historical Fiction, Animal Stories, Middle Grade, American History, Animals, Character values, Read Alouds



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  1. Jess says

    Have you read the actual book Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel? I read it first when I was seven, and I still laugh at it whenever I read it. Oh look, he wrote Frog and Toad, too! (I guess I knew that, just forgot.) 🙂

    Another mouse book is Abel’s Island by William Steig. I remember liking parts of it but not being satisfied with the ending (I think it was because Abel didn’t stay on his island forever but returned to civilization… As Arthur Ransome says in Swallows and Amazons, “That was the thing that spoilt Robinson Crusoe. In the end he came home. There ought never to be an end.”)

  2. Annette Gysen says

    Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle–one of the best ever! I still have my tattered copy from the Weekly Reader Book Club.

  3. There is something about mice as main characters! I know I loved reading about mouse detectives when I was younger; two series that I especially enjoyed were Basil of Baker Street and Miss Bianca.

  4. How could I forgot about The Rescuers! I missed reading the Cleary Book, but not Lobel’s Mouse Tales–and Stuart Little . . .

  5. Katie says

    I have loved mouse books from the time I was a child! I had 25 rats (not all at the same time) as pets when I was a kid. My desire was for a mouse, but mom did her research and found that rats were better pats. The whole lot of them had literary names. I started with Jonathan from the Rats of Nihm and went to Reepicheep next. My favorite was when I decided to breed my rats and had a Gilbert and Anne. They had just the right amount of children to name them all after the Blythe children from the Anne of Green Gables series. Thanks for the new mouse book suggestions. I can’t wait to try them out!

  6. Katie says

    In my earlier comment please make that “mice are better pets” not “pats”. How embarrassing. 🙂

  7. johanna rogers says

    My oldest two just read all three of the books you reviewed and loved them! I am so thankful to have this blog to help me feed my ferocious readers. Also thankful for the inter-library loan so I can get my hands on the books:) Thanks Janie

  8. After reading this post, I checked out Secrets at Sea from our library. It was a very fun read, and I’ve already recommended it to a young reader in search of a good book!

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