Ernest and Celestine

Gabrielle Vincent

Ernest and Celestine Gabrielle Vincent (Catnip), 32pp, 978-1846471582, RRP £10.99, Hardcover 5-8 Infant/Junior

This review is available on the Books for Keeps website

Thank you to Books for Keeps for permission to reproduce their review.

Muted ink and watercolour illustrations portray the special relationship between Celestine, a young mouse and large brown bear, Ernest. Poor Celestine is distraught when she loses her beloved toy penguin while out walking in the snow with Ernest. In response, Ernest does all he can to make up for the loss, searching the toyshop in vain for a replacement before coming up with another plan altogether.

First published in the UK in the 1980s this tender story whose text comprises solely dialogue, has been reissued in slightly larger format with its text reworked, to coincide with the release of the animated film. The manner of telling means that the book is best suited to sharing with individuals or a small group of children because so much of the story, not least the moods and emotions of the characters, is unsaid, but conveyed within the illustrations which need to be pawed over and reflected upon.

This attractive little book provides much scope to develop prediction and discussion of feelings. Young children are often attached to a favourite toy which provides them with security when feeling upset or frightened. The story lends itself to PHSE lessons where these emotions can be explored in a safe and supportive environment. 

Themes from the book

The nature of loss

Finding solutions to problems 

Caring for others.

The nature of loss

There are many books on the market dealing with loss and death but there are others which explore the idea that children may be particularly attached to a toy.

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

Everyone should be familiar with this classic story of what happens when Dave lost his favourite toy. The theme is very similar to Ernest and Celestine as Dave’s sister tries to get Dogger back for her brother.

Alfie Gives a Hand by Shirley Hughes

Another classic story. Alfie has a security blanket which he relies on. When he goes to a party he finds it is not so vital after all and he makes a new friend at the party as well.

Jamaica’s Find by Juanita Havill

First published in 1987 and again twenty years later this is a book worth reading with children. Jamaica finds a stuffed dog in the park and decides to keep it but her conscience decides otherwise. Five more books on ethical dilemmas children might face followed this publication.

Toys in Space by Mini Grey

Mini Grey produces wonderful and exciting books for children. This one might provide asolution to the problem of what happens to lost toys perhaps?

Ollie and the Lost Toy by Lucy Richards

Ollie has to go to the dentist but he has lost his favourite toy. How will he manage without his red snail?

The Teddy Bear by David M McPhail

Lost teddy bears seem to be a recurring theme in picture books and this one tells the story of a little boy whose best friend goes missing and the search to find him.

Finding solutions to problems

At the end of the story of Ernest and Celestine the toys Ernest has bought for Celestine are shared with the other ‘children’ bringing happiness to all. Many children’s stories start with a problem which is resolved in a satisfactory manner, or perhaps not.

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book about a boy who is desperate to catch a star. It seems an impossible task but there is a happy ending. A lovely story to share with a class or an individual.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

Most teachers will be familiar with this humorous story told in rhyme. Gerald is a giraffe with a tall neck but bandy legs. He can’t dance like the rest of the animals but when he hears the right tune he finds success. A great story for talking about individual talents and also prejudices.

Caring for others

Can you Catch A Mermaid? by Jane Ray

This story looks at another ethical dilemma about losing and finding things. Eliza finds a new friend who just happens to be a mermaid. Eliza wants Freya to stay with her so hides her mirror. In the end she discovers that loving someone sometimes means letting them go. This story appeals more to girls than boys.

The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The giant in this story thinks it is better to help others than to be smart and tidy looking. Told in verse with bright and cheerful illustrations this explores the theme of caring for others in an accessible manner.

Other ideas

Children who are interested in the characters of Ernest and Celestine may be interested in other stories in the series. They may also be introduced to a different language by reading the books in French and discussing how the illustrations tell much of the story.

Ask children to choose their favourite picture in the book and explain why. If the characters had thought bubbles above their heads what do you think they might be thinking?

Ask teachers in the school to bring along their favourite toy as a child (or a picture). See if the children can pair the teacher with the toy. This could even be a fund raiser for a school fete.

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