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“A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.”
Summary: Under the floorboards of the Oakley Plantation lived a mouse, Celeste. As narrator of our story, Celeste shares with us the events of the summer of 1821, when John Audubon and his assistant, Joseph Mason, came to sketch and paint the birds in Louisiana. Thrust from her home by two bully rats and a nasty cat, Celeste builds a nest in a forgotten boot, only to discover it wasn't forgotten when Joseph put his foot in it! Joseph decides to keep Celeste as his companion, often carrying her around in his pocket. Celeste, in her continual search for a permanent nest, makes several friends along the way. This is an historical fiction novel about John Audubon woven into the background of a story about friendship.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, family reading, anytime reading, independent reading, read aloud book, middle grade reader
Recommended Age: read together: 8 to 12; read yourself: 10 and up
Interest Level: 10 and up
Reading Level: 5
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: This is a fascinating story. The author did an incredible job weaving the fantasy (Celeste can talk to other animals), fiction (Celeste makes baskets), and history (Audubon and Joseph did live at Oakley Plantation). The black and white sketches throughout the book are superb and really help bring the story to life. I was initially taken aback early on when the bully rats start picking on Celeste, I almost stopped reading. I was shocked when I learned about Audubon's methods for painting birds and was glad that I was not reading this with my animal-adoring 8-year-old.
Pros: Beautiful sketches add to a story that has layers for many readers, as themes of friendship, teamwork, "family," and history combine in a well-told story. This is an excellent choice as a high-low book.
Cons: There are several episodes of violent death, including a sketch of the cat carrying away one of the bully rats, and detailed descriptions of how Audubon killed birds and pinned them to boards to paint them. If your child is sensitive to these kinds of things, you may want to prepare them before you start reading.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. This is a fascinating book. Once you read the biography in the back, you'll want to go back to points in the book and re-read them with a new perspective.
Educational Themes: There are many layers to this story. Celeste and her adventures offer an excellent glimpse into plantation life in the early 1800s. The biography of John Audubon at the end is an excellent complement to the story, offering some detailed factual data, too. There are also themes of perseverance, being self sufficient, bullying, friendship, and teamwork.
Notes: The publisher donated a copy of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need. p