Friday, May 21, 2010

A Little Mouse with a Big Heart

A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
(written for children in grades 3 through 5)

A lonely little mouse living a dull life, weaving baskets within a musty hole, inside a 17th century New Orleans plantation begins an adventure of a lifetime. She meets the famous naturalist painter John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851), who is a guest of the plantation owner. From the shirt pocket of Audubon’s thirteen-year-old assistant Joseph Mason, Celeste watches as Audubon kills, paints, catalogues and describes the birds of North America.
The book cover advertises “A Nest for Celeste” as a story about art, inspiration and the meaning of home. However, I believe this story is about perseverance, friendship, and the importance of possessing a compassionate heart. For such a little creature, Celeste makes a big impact on her wildlife neighbors and humans alike.
There are several parallels to Celeste and Joseph’s stories: Celeste lost her family when the crops were harvested and Joseph, a lonely, young boy, leaves his family far behind for two years to travel the country with Audubon. His job is to learn how to paint the backdrops for Audubon’s pictures and learn a trade. After a house cat narrowly misses killing Celeste she finds a temporary home in Joseph’s boot; he later relocates her to his shirt pocket. From this pocket, Celeste witnesses Man’s impact on wildlife: shooting down hundreds of Passenger Pigeons, the killing of other fowl for Audubon’s pictures. Both Joseph and Celeste take these killings to heart and both try to influence Audubon’s methods of painting the perfect picture by suggesting alternatives that end up saving lives.
In one scene in the book, Joseph, drums up some courage and confronts Audubon on his methods. An Ivory-billed woodpecker was shot in the wing by Audubon two days before and dies of his wounds and a broken heart. Joseph is upset when Audubon asks him for pins to secure the woodpecker’s carcass onto a board.
“This doesn’t seem right…” said Joseph.
“What doesn’t,” said Audubon.
“I don’t know…the way we’re doing this, the paintings?” said Joseph. “You are looking to capture its life on paper, but by killing it first? By pinning it to a board? It was so majestic up in that enormous cypress tree…”
Audubon argues that there were plenty of woodpeckers where that one came from and questions Joseph on would he rather hold a live woodpecker while it pecked at his hand during the painting process.
“I am preserving their beauty forever. If I could paint their portraits as well another way I would.” Audubon states.
Joseph leaves the room thinking about his lonely moments since he left his family and wonders if all the other woodpeckers were killed off but one, how lonely would that one woodpecker be flying along the river valley “on an endless and futile search up and down the valley, looking to find another ivory-billed woodpecker?”

Read this thought-provoking book full of many wildlife characters captured within the author’s quaint illustrations and find out how Joseph and Celeste face the challenges of being alone in the world and how their friendship brings love, courage, freedom and...the wonder of “how love can start with something as simple as the gift of a peanut.”
Checking Out,
Mrs. V

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pretty little liars and their dirty little secrets

I must say I am totally in love with Pretty Little Liars right now. Okay, so I haven’t even finished the first one yet, but I can tell already I’m completely hooked. By the way it starts, with an omniscient voice saying how this perfect setting she’s describing isn’t really so perfect, it kind of reminds me of Desperate Housewives—for teens. And I should warn you this is definitely for the older teen crowd, what with the mature situations, mild drug use, and sexual situations. But it’s the mystery that keeps this so addicting. In seventh grade, five girls are best friends and the most popular in their upper class private school. Then one of the girls--the girl who knows every dirty little secret about the other four—goes missing. Flash forward to 11th grade and the four remaining friends have grown apart. Then they start getting messages from someone reminding them of all their secrets. Who could it be? What should they do? Which designer bag should they buy next? Each question more revealing than the next (except maybe that last one). It’s Beverly Hills 90210 in book form, with a mysterious twist (I’m referring to the original 90210, I must admit I have not seen the remake). Oh! And there’s a show coming out! Check out a copy before you’re the last girl who doesn’t know what’s going on!
~Amanda D.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Puppy to arrive at Mrs. V's house

At the end of May, my family will be picking up an 8-week-old, male, yellow, Labrador Retriever in the Pilot Dog program in Columbus. My 17-year-old son signed on to be a puppy raiser for a school community service project. The dog will eventually, at 1 year or 14 months old, be turned over to Pilot Dogs so the dog can get more formal training to become a guide dog for the blind.
It has been two years since we last had a dog in the house, so the family is very excited about hearing the patter of little paws in the house again. This is a huge responsibility for my son. He needs to take the puppy to an obedience course when the puppy is 4 to 5 months old. The puppy also needs to socialize with animals, people and be exposed to traffic conditions and other environments.

Once the dog is returned to Pilot Dogs, it begins formal training with professional trainers/instructors. This training typically lasts about five months. As the dogs advance, the training schedules are changed so that the dogs begin training in the streets of Columbus where they learn how to navigate buses, revolving doors, escalators, elevators, and all other conditions the blind may encounter once returned home with their pilot dogs.

The blind student and their dog train together for four weeks and learn to navigate their way through the largest department stores, on and off buses, and across the busiest thoroughfares by themselves.

My son will receive a picture of the dog and his new owner when the dog has graduated from the program. We know that letting go of our new puppy within a year will be very hard, but we are expecting a great experience and many stories to tell. Will keep you updated on the puppy’s progress and any advice on how to raise a puppy is welcome.

Meanwhile, check out our link (just click on the picture) to all the wonderful books we have in our collection regarding guide dogs. I recommend reading Gertrude Chandler Warners’ fiction book “The Guide Dog Mystery”; Stephanie Calmenson’s picture book “May I pet your dog?: the how-to guide for kids meeting dogs (and dogs meeting kids)”; and Glenna Lang’s picture book “Looking Out for Sarah.”

Checking Out,
Mrs. V