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Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Nest for Celeste, written and illustrated by Henry Cole. Harper Canada, 2010. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Below the crackled and faded painting of a horse, beneath a heavy sideboard, under the worn carpet and dusty floorboards of the dining room sat Celeste, hunched over her worktable."

And so begins this lovely story that combines historical fiction, the beauty of art and lasting friendships. Its setting is the eastern part of North America, the time is the early 1800s and the historical figures depicted are John James Audubon and Joseph Mason. When we meet Celeste, an industrious and observant mouse, we are made privy to the challenges that she faces in the farmhouse where she lives...adequate food, mean and threatening rats and an always vigilant cat in search of its next meal.

When Mr. Audubon and his assistant arrive at the farmhouse, Celeste is intrigued and then captivated by the gentle and artistic Joseph. He is quick to respond to her needs and to keep her safely tucked in his shirt pocket. They become fast friends and Celeste is always delighted when Joseph is nearby. Celeste is an expert basket weaver and uses her talents to design containers that are helpful to herself and others. She uses them to carry her own food, to move from place to place in the house and even to create a form of transporation for herself when she is lost far from home.

Always at the heart of the story is Celeste's search for the perfect home...somewhere safe and comfortable where she can live her life in peace and contentment. During that search she meets friends who sustain and protect her, and comes in contact with others who continue to cause her concern and loss. When Joseph leaves to accompany Mr. Audubon on his journey to find more birds to sketch, Celeste misses him and yearns for his company, while learning to spend time with new friends.

This is a lovely tale to share in early years classrooms. Its many beautiful double page and spot illustrations are detailed, dramatic and meant to be shared with eager listeners. The story is adventurous, with just the right amount of alarm and humor, and reminds me of such books as the Poppy series by Avi and Charlotte's Web.

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