A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JUNE 3:

  • Happy birthday Anita Lobel (On Market Street, No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War).
  • It’s the birth date of Robert Newman (1909-1988), The Case of the Baker Street Irregular.
  • In 1888 “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer is published in the San Francisco Examiner. There are several current picture-book editions of Casey at the Bat in print, illustrated by Christopher Bing, Joe Morse, Barry Moser, LeRoy Neiman, C. F. Payne, and Patricia Polacco.
  • It’s National Donut Day, celebrated the first Friday in June. Read Donut Days by Laura Zielin, The Donut Chef by Bob Staake, and Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty.

Today I am thanking all my cat-loving readers, who have had to suffer through endless dog books and dog stories. It isn’t fair, I know! However, June has been designated Adopt a Shelter Cat Month—with the motto “Make Pet Adoption Your First Option.” So to settle the imbalance in the Almanac, I’m going to use June to present some first-rate cat books. Today we’ll look at the work of Esther Averill, on June 13 Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat,” on June 18th Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and on June 28th T. S. Elliott’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. (Then I can go back to dogs!)

Jenny Linsky, one of the most engaging cats in children’s books, emerged in the 1940s and 1950s from the mind of author Esther Averill. Poor Jenny; found as a stray, she’s taken into the home of the kindly captain. But she desperately wants to become a member of the Cat Club that meets in her neighborhood. To gain admittance, she must demonstrate a special talent. Not until the captain fashions ice skates for Jenny, and she demonstrates her skating prowess, does she finally become a member of the club. In Jenny and the Cat Club, which contains five stories about our intrepid heroine, Jenny goes to her first party (where she shows off her ability to dance the sailor’s hornpipe), acquires some brothers, loses a scarf, and gets her brothers admitted to the Cat Club.

Although all the stories about Jenny Linsky stay true to cat behavior, they rely on the realities of childhood—wanting to fit in, jealousy over siblings, losing a valued object. All the cat characters have names and personalities, are rendered in black line with spots of color, and engage in clever dialogue. In Jenny, young readers see both their beloved pet and themselves. Perfect for readers ages five through eight who have moved up from picture books but are not yet ready for longer novels, the stories about Jenny can be read a chapter at a time, ideal for those at this level of reading skill.

Throughout her career Esther Averill pursued many lines of work. A graduate of Vassar in 1923, she wrote for Women’s Wear Daily. She went to Paris, and while there established her own press in 1931, where she specialized in superb reproduction of the artwork of some of the most gifted European artists of the time, like Feodor Rojankovsky. Because of the Nazi invasion of Paris, Averill returned to the United States and worked for the New York Public Library. Then she studied art and began creating her own stories about Jenny, set in the Greenwich Village area, where Averill lived.

Although immensely popular in their day, the thirteen volumes about Jenny the cat began to vanish from print. However, in 2003 The New York Review of Books started reissuing them. These editions are commendable not only because they put Jenny back in circulation but also because of the attention given to design and production. All the Averill reissues are elegant books, perfect to give as a gift. It seems so fitting that Averill, who cared deeply about book production, was given the kind of care and attention for her books she once lavished on the books of others.

If there are any cat lovers who have not discovered or reread these books for years, you will be delighted when you pick up these wonderfully written, funny, and engaging sagas.

Here’s a passage from Jenny and the Cat Club:

 

Pickles wanted to dance with Jenny, too. So Jenny said she would dance with both together, and they led her out into the moonlit yard.

How proud she was to teach them how to dance the sailor’s hornpipe!

The three friends were soon dancing so beautifully that all the other cats rushed over to them. All but Alice.

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Originally posted June 3, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Cats, New York
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Jenny and the Cat Club
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COMMENTS

  1. Sharon H. says:

    Blast from the past! I recognized Fire Cat’s picture just now. Instantly, I recalled what was clearly a favorite from my childhood. I loved that old, red book. I’ll have to go look it up.

  2. suzi w. says:

    ooh, these might be a perfect gift for my sister who can’t have a cat now that she’s getting married–small apartment, hubbie allergic.

    And the history–I will have to go into my Virginia Kirkus files…it sure seems like there were a lot of Vassar grads of that time period who went into publishing…

  3. Kara says:

    Love, love, love! The Fire Cat was my favorite book from childhood, but I only discovered Jenny Linsky as an adult. The re-sissues has been a blessing, and I’ve read them all to my daughter. She’s partial to Concertina :)

  4. maya says:

    i bought this book for my 5yo daughter and she is enthralled – it’s her favorite book! i didn’t read about jenny growing up, but i’m glad i’ve heard of her now. :)

  5. April Mazza says:

    Jenny Linsky is one of my all-time favorites! Thanks for the information about Esther Averill, I did not know any of these things about her.

  6. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    April and Suzi W. I myself was surprised by Averill’s background. Vassar and then being an American expat in Paris in those golden years. She actually continued publishing, while a librarian at the New York Public Library. That was just the beginning. Then she wrote a series of classics!

  7. Ahhh … Jenny and her brothers Edward and Checkers.

    Such a fabulous trio!

    My daughter loves Jenny, truly loves her.

    But her twin brother is C.R.A.Z.Y. about Pickles!

    What is it about this Cat Club that provokes such interest and adoration among kids?

    Anita, I think that you hit the nail on the head: “Although all the stories about Jenny Linsky stay true to cat behavior, they rely on the realities of childhood—wanting to fit in, jealousy over siblings, losing a valued object.”

    Yes all the cats have such distinct personalities … and “engage in clever dialogue”. What more could a child ask for?

    Last but not least: The New York Review Children’s Collection is one of the best children’s book sets available. I LOVE it. These “forgotten classics” are such a breath of fresh air. The NYR CC decided to reprint children’s book that were no longer available in print. My highest recommendation.

    I was so taken by them, I secretly ordered the entire NYR CC set without telling my wife. One of the best buys I made. (ps: for those who are interested you can find a review of the entire set on my site). There are some 5-6 Esther Averill Jenny titles in the set.

    Highly recommended.

    Read Aloud Dad

  8. suzi w says:

    Anita,

    Averill sounds kind of like a real life Miss Rumphius, in some ways. And btw, VK graduated 1916. But there is something about Vassar…I keep digging.

    Suzi

  9. Ed DeCaria says:

    I missed a week of CBADA while with family in Florida, where my 2.5yo received The Fire Cat as a present from her aunt. I instantly adored this book. It is so perfectly written and pleasant to read aloud with its crisp descriptions and dialogue. And Pickles … what a cat. I don’t even like cats but I instantly loved THIS cat.

    I logged on to CBADA tonight to write to you, Anita, to see if you had ever featured this amazing book (and if you hadn’t, if you would) and I came to find the above post from Friday, the very day I first read The Fire Cat to my daughter.

    Thank you for this write-up on Esther Averill and her books.

    Really, this may be about as close to a perfect blog as one can maintain.

    Thanks again,

    -Ed

  10. Anita says:

    Ed: Thank you for your comments. I’m always so happy to learn that books like The Fire Cat continue to work their magic with the next generation.

  11. Eliza says:

    I’m a HUGE fan of Esther Averill Jenny titles and all her other cat books. Even when engaging in human pursuits like dancing and ice skating, her cat’s never lost their essential felineness. These books were some of my favorites as a girl and the continue to enchant in no small part due to the enchanting illustrations. That little red scarf gets me.

    I’m delighted that The New York Review Children’s Collection decided to reprint this collection and to do such a beautiful job. Their reprints truly are lovely.

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