Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Nest for Celeste


by Henry Cole
New York: HarperCollins, 2010. 342 pgs. Fiction.


Celeste is a mouse who lives under the floorboards of an 1800s Louisiana plantation house. She weaves baskets from dried grass, bits of horsehair, flowers, and feathers. Terrorized not only by the cat of the manor, but by two rats who shake her down for the food she has gathered, she is eventually driven upstairs to take shelter in a boot left on the floor. The boot belongs to Joseph Mason, apprentice and assistant to John James Audubon, and who takes a shine to Celeste, calling her "Little One" and carrying her around in his shirt pocket. Celeste's many adventures as she looks for a real home include flying with an osprey, escaping (again! and again!) the terrible cat, another run-in with the rats, and finding a home just her size in the attic. Cole's lovely pencil drawings and his evocative prose fit beautifully together, though the story inexplicably demonizes John James Audubon because he shot birds so he could pose them for his pictures (just like every other 19th century naturalist). The men who shot passenger pigeons for food, from flocks so large they darkened the sky, are also on the bad list. Though Cole's reverence for life is obvious and admirable, he seems a little heavy-handed in condemning those who lived well before there seemed any need for environmental concerns. Audubon himself was very vocal, particularly later in life, about the need to preserve wildlife and environment. But I digress. A Nest for Celeste is mostly charming--if only the niceties of historicity had also been observed.

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