Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 8-10 and up
Celeste lives in the wall of a Louisiana plantation house, where she weaves baskets of grass and any other material at hand—lately feathers. But trouble looms when the resident rats conscript her to forage for them, leading to a run-in with the cat and exile from her home. “What a palace I’ve lived in!” she marvels from the top of the stairs—a place she never appreciated until forced out of it. In her quest for new lodgings, Celeste has her view expanded further, meets several creatures outside her experience, and becomes the shirt-pocket companion of Joseph, boy apprentice to John James Audubon. Thrills, terrors and anxieties await, but her new home, though tinged with the sadness of separation, will be a place for her to create peace as well as baskets.
This is a gentle, meandering story with some lovely illustrations, like the double-page spread of Audubon and Joseph setting off on a journey under magnificent live oaks. A bit of 21st Century moralism creeps in, such as Joseph’s response to men blasting away at clouds of passenger pigeons (now extinct), but for the most part we’re spared. Young readers may decide for themselves what they think about Audubon killing and stuffing his birds before he painted them so exquisitely. The story would be a good accompaniment to nature study, as Celeste encounters hollyhocks, sunflowers, several varieties of trees (live oak, poplar, cypress, dogwood), and birds: osprey, thrush, and Carolina parakeet (also extinct). Simple pleasures and beauties abound: “The wood thrush then lifted its head and let loose a startlingly clear warble that resonated throughout the room.” Nature can be terrifying–“Each as big as her ear, the drops fell from the black sky like spears”–but Celeste eventually finds a place within four walls for herself.
Overall rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5
- Artistic value: 4.5
Categories: Historical Fiction, Animal Stories, Middle Grade, American History, Animals, Character values, Read Alouds