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

January 21, 2018, 12:58 am

Welcome to Oakley plantation in Louisiana during the Monroe administration, where Mr. and Mrs. Pirrie live with their daughter Eliza. Visitor Mr. Audubon and his apprentice Joseph come to live with the Pirries. Audubon is charged with teaching young Eliza to dance, draw, and paint to ready herself to entertain suiters. While there, Audubon will collect wildlife specimens to sketch and to paint for his Birds of America folio. Fifteen-year-old apprentice Joseph will help by painting backgrounds. Living beneath the floorboards is a little mouse named Celeste. Her mother and father, three brothers and sister, were killed by a blade during harvest. A groundhog named Ellis saved her, nursed her back to health, and brought her to the Pirrie’s house. Under the floorboard, she weaves beautiful baskets out of grasses and feathers. But she is tormented by Trixie and Iliana, two greedy rats who send out Celeste for food, even if the house cat and dog are roaming nearby. Celeste, after being cornered by the cat, is forced to relocate. Celeste climbs the newel post and proceeds up the staircase. She enters a small room that belongs to Joseph. Exhausted from her efforts, she builds a nest in the toe of Joseph’s boot. Young Joseph finds her the next day and rather than tossing her aside, he nuzzles and cuddles her, calling her Little One. From then on, Celeste becomes his companion, living in his pocket and eating the peanuts he feeds her. But much adventure awaits for Celeste. Soon a wood thrush named Cornelius is in the room with her, asking her to fetch him dogwood berries. Celeste obliges, only to be tossed and tumbled because of a violent storm, and carried away down a muddy, raging river. There she is saved by an osprey named Lafayette. Celeste weaves a gondola and asks Lafayette to fly her back to the plantation. This plan works and soon Celeste is back with Joseph. Next, Lafayette is wounded by Audubon, who shot him. Celeste helps her osprey friend escape. The author clearly holds a strong opinion on hunting, in general, and of Audubon’s method for killing birds simply so he may paint them. Hunters, hunting, and guns are cast as the enemy and human folly is highlighted, especially when the hunters shoot poor Joseph in the head (though he is only wounded). Joseph recovers, the bully rat Trixie returns, and Celeste discovers an attic full of furniture including a dollhouse just her size. Joseph leaves, sad he cannot find Celeste. This book, full of beautiful illustrations, is a sweet rendering of personified animals in a human world. The reader eagerly roots for Celeste and Joseph and wishes for them to stay together, but alas Joseph leaves, and Celeste makes a home in the doll house. She is not alone, though, as Cornelius the wood thrush has sent Violet, a wren, to keep her company through the winter.

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