Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

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

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

Henry Cole
For ages 8 to 10
HarperCollins, 2010   ISBN: 978-0061704123

Celeste is a little mouse who lives under the dusty floorboards in the dining room of Oakley Plantation. She spends her nights seeking out scraps of food and pieces of dried grass, which she then uses to create beautifully made baskets. The baskets are real works of art, but the only other creatures who see them, a pair of rats called Illianna and Trixie, don’t appreciate them at all. Instead, they steal Celeste’s supplies and force her to go out and get food for them. If she does not comply they bite and bully her.

One night Celeste is forced, by the rats, to forage when the humans are still sitting at the dining room table. Celeste dare not walk around and so she listens to what the people are saying and learns that a man called Mr. Audubon has come to stay. He is creating a series of paintings of American birds and has brought his apprentice, Joseph, with him. In return for his room and board, Mr. Audubon will be teaching the daughter of the house to dance and draw.

Eventually the people go to bed and the two rats, who have lose patience waiting for Celeste, come to investigate the dining room for themselves. They are so busy delighting over the treats that they have found that they don’t notice that the family cat is on the prowl; until it is too late. Trixie manages to get away, but Illianna is not so lucky.

Celeste is eager to resume her schedule but the cat now knows where her mouse hole is and the feline makes it very hard for her to leave the safety of her little home. One night she dares to go out and soon enough the cat appears. It chases Celeste who, thanks to her tiny little mouse claws, is able to climb the newel post. From there she climbs all the way up the staircase bannister to the second floor. There she finds a boot under a bed. She sets about making a little nest for herself inside the boot. Perhaps the boot can even be her new home.

Unfortunately, in the morning, Celeste finds out that Mr. Audubon’s assistant still as need of his boot. Jospeh finds Celeste and puts her in a little cage. For a while Celeste thinks that Joseph is going to eat her, but he is kind and gentle and gives her nice treats and soon she is content to travel around in his pocket as he goes about his day.

Most of the time Celeste enjoys her time with Joseph, but when she sees how Mr. Audubon kills or maims birds so that he can pose them for his paintings she is shocked. Joseph does not like this behavior either. Surely there is something wrong with killing birds just so that you can create lifelike drawings and paintings of them.

One day a farmhand brings Joseph a little thrush, a live bird, to use as a model. The bird goes in a cage and soon he and Celeste are talking. The mouse promises to help him escape as soon as she can, and in the meantime she asks if there is anything she can get him. The thrush, Cornelius, asks if she can get him some dogwood berries. Off Celeste goes, never imagining that the events that take place in the next day will change her life forever.

In this wonderful book a gentle and powerful story about a mouse’s quest for a home of her own is perfectly paired with pencil drawings to give young readers a singular reading experience. This is the kind of story a reader will happily read several times as there are many concepts and impressions to explore as the story unfolds.