A timid mouse goes on an inadvertent journey.
Cornered by a house cat, Celeste (A Nest for Celeste, 2010) spends the night nestled in a wagon laden with cotton. In the morning, the wagon departs with Celeste aboard, and her home disappears behind her. Her voyage is episodic, featuring new friends, myriad hiding places (a sewing box; a barrel of cornmeal), and dangers (a steamboat that sinks, fur trappers, a season that gets cold). The shy little rodent travels up the Mississippi River from “a long way south,” landing someplace with “brilliant fall colors and icicles and snowdrifts.” Other animals protect her, and then she’s adopted by a white boy named Abe (Lincoln, the author’s note confirms), who’s portrayed almost romantically as particularly kind, thoughtful, and hungry for education. Descriptions of nature are lush; Cole’s black-and-white pencil drawings touch almost every spread, soft and gentle, evocative, sometimes covering entire pages. Unfortunately, the piece ignores an underlying ugliness: in the early 1800s in Mississippi, Celeste’s cozy, “safe” original home—a plantation—almost certainly would have been a site of slavery, and the story’s only obviously black human—a friendly cook on the steamboat—might have been enslaved.
Earnest animal fantasy with exceptionally designed illustrations but uncomfortably set in a time and place undeserving of a rosy glow. (author’s note) (Animal fantasy. 6-10)