SIBR: Jenny Linsky and the Cat Club stories by Esther Averill

I have recently become fascinated with a series of children’s books about a small black cat named Jenny Linsky and her friends in the local Cat Club.  Esther Averill published 13 of these tales between the years 1944 and 1972; I read 11 of them last month.  The stories are all over the place as far as reading levels go, but there are two things all of the Jenny Linsky books have in common: charming stories and adorable illustrations.  I can’t recommend them enough.  Where to begin?  You could start where I did, with a collection called:

Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories About Jenny Linsky

This book collects five of Esther Averill’s earliest Jenny stories:

  • The Cat Club (1944) – Jenny Linsky, a small black cat with a red scarf, moves in with Captain Tinker and longs for membership in a local organization known as the Cat Club.
  • Jenny’s First Party (1948) – Jenny goes wandering with her friends Pickles and Florio.  They discover a cats-only dance party.  Jenny impresses the attendees when she competes in a dance-off with the beautiful and talented Alice Featherlegs (in her only series appearance).
  • When Jenny Lost Her Scarf (1951) – Jenny’s red scarf is stolen by a dog just as preparations are beginning for the Cat Club’s annual spring picnic.
  • Jenny’s Adopted Brothers (1952) – Jenny convinces Captain Tinker to adopt two homeless cats.  Then she gets jealous when they move in.
  • How the Brothers Joined the Cat Club (1953) – Jenny’s new brothers, Checkers and Edward, must display unique talents to earn membership in the Cat Club.

I found that collection to be so charming that I did something I hardly ever do…I went to my library and used it to acquire books!  I reserved every Esther Averill title they had in their system.  The library books I read were:

The School For Cats (1947)
Jenny has trouble adjusting to life at boarding school.  Pickles the Fire Cat keeps bothering her with his firetruck, so she runs away.  The plot here only made sense when I noticed that this story was published before “Jenny’s First Party”, the story from the collection where Jenny and Pickles are close friends.  This story shows how they met.

Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure (1949)
It’s Halloween night and Jenny must overcome her fear of dogs in order to return a nose flute to Madame Butterfly.  The beautiful Persian can’t come downstairs to get her musical instrument because she fell out a window and injured her paw.  The only other way to reach her requires passing through an area controlled by the local dog gang!

Jenny’s Birthday Book (1954)
Jenny Linsky celebrates her birthday with a picnic and dance in the local park.  Whereas the other Cat Club stories I’d read up to this point were for older readers, this one was only a step or two away from being a picture book.  Jenny’s Birthday Book wasn’t a very complex story, but it was still worth checking out as it featured a lot more art than the other books.  Some of Esther Averill’s best illustrations can be found here.

The Fire Cat (1960)
Pickles redeems his past as a bully by joining the fire department.  This is basically the origin story for Pickles the Fire Cat.  It must’ve taken awhile for Pickles to redeem himself all the way, as he was still sort of a bully when he met Jenny at boarding school in The School For Cats (see above).

The Hotel Cat (1969)
Whereas Jenny’s Birthday Book and The Fire Cat were essentially picture books, The Hotel Cat is a full-fledged 160+ page novel.  In it, all the neighborhood boilers freeze, so Jenny and the other members of the Cat Club have to check into a hotel while new boilers are being installed.  This isn’t your regular old hotel, though; this place has an official hotel cat named Tom.  He takes care of the mice and rats and checks in on any pets who might be staying with their owners.  Tom doesn’t know what to make of the large number of guest cats, but his friend Mrs. Wilkins suggests that he try to make the best of the situation.

Captains of the City Streets (1972)
This novel was the last Cat Club book Esther Averill wrote.  I don’t have any reservations in naming it my favorite in the series.  Here’s the story: two tramp cats, Sinbad and the Duke, head off on a journey to find their own house.  They eventually find one but it doesn’t come with a full pantry.  They’ve still got to wander the streets in search of the meals they need to survive.  Pickings are slim and the two friends lower themselves to tipping over a trashcan.  It’s not long after this degrading act when they realize someone has taken notice of their arrival in what supposedly had been a cat-free neighborhood up until then.

cat club books

(Cat Club books)

There are two other Cat Club books, Jenny Goes to Sea (1957) and Jenny’s Bedside Book (1959).  My library didn’t have either of these.  The first one was reissued a few years ago, so I will just buy it whenever I find it in a children’s book store.  Jenny’s Bedside Book is the only book in the series that is currently out-of-print.  There’s an old copy of it for sale online for $200.  That’s not going to happen, but I hope to eventually track down the book and read it.  I’m also planning on rereading everything listed above.  I originally read the library books in publication order; it’s now my intention to reread everything in chronological order (story-wise).  I took notes to keep everything straight:

jenny linsky (part 1)

(Cat Club notes, pt. 1)

jenny linsky (part 2)

(Cat Club notes, pt. 2)

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24 Responses to SIBR: Jenny Linsky and the Cat Club stories by Esther Averill

  1. I confess I got choked up reading this. I loved those books when I was a little girl. I remember seeing Jenny’s Birthday Book featured on “Captain Kangaroo,” and begged my parents to get the book for me. Unfortunately, bookstores in my hometown sucked back then, and there was no Amazon or internet: so I had to content myself with a copy from the library. (When they had it. Our local bookmobile wasn’t anything to boast about, either.)

    Anyway, thanks for reviving some good memories. That also reminds me: I’m buying books that I loved when I was little to read to my grandchild when he’s old enough. I’ll have to pick up The Cat Club series too. Maybe I can prevent my son-in-law from turning the kid into a dog person.

    • M-----l says:

      Aww, I like the thought of Little HG reading her Cat Club books. I’m glad this post was able to bring back some memories. I wasn’t familiar with the series until about two months ago, but I think back fondly on some of my childhood favorites like The Velveteen Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh (given to me by Paul and his wife in 1978), and that series of tiny Beatrix Potter books.

      I’d suggest that you give your grandson Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure and When Jenny Lost Her Scarf if you’re interested in turning him against dogs. Those two feature the closest thing the series has to a villain, Rob the Robber. He’s a dog who wears a sweater with an R on it.

      • Thank you for the suggestions. I noticed that I can buy the whole series on Amazon, except for the Bedside Book. (Funny the publisher didn’t issue a reprint of that one.) It’s ironic, my son-in-law didn’t like animals in general, but when my daughter moved in with him, he had to accept her dog, Jingjing. Now he adores Jingjing so much he wanted at one point to have her cloned. :p But he says now he hates cats and doesn’t want my daughter to get one.

        I also searched the innerwebs for that Captain Kangaroo film and found it on YouTube. I watched it over and over again last night and got all weepy. I need to get that book!

      • M-----l says:

        WordPress tells me that I’ve gotten 21,936 comments in the history of this site; that one you just left has to been in the top two or three. Wow.

        I’m a nerd, so I noticed that the words in the video didn’t exactly match up with the text in the book. The video gives names to many of the cats who appeared only as illustrations in the book version. I will have to go back and add some checks to my red ink character matrix.

        • There are times where I think I should cool it with the comments on WordPress. One of these days I’ll make someone mad and I’ll get flagged or yellow carded or whatever they do on WP to spammy commenters.

          I haven’t read all of the Jenny/Cat Club books, so I’m not familiar with all of the characters in the series. I thought it was cute they had real children’s voices sing “Happy Birthday” to Jenny. You can also hear the sound of an old-fashioned movie projector running in the background. The last scene, where Jenny says a prayer for all the cats in the world, made me cry. I must be in a weepy mood, or I need a real cat here.

        • M-----l says:

          Please don’t cool it with comments over here. You’ve been single-handedly supporting my site for the last five days. I feel like I’m basically writing posts for you now.

          Hmmm, what would Hangaku Gozen like next, more Barbara Kent tobacco cards or the story of why I’ve recently taken to hanging out in my driveway?

          And to think I recently poked fun at your list of potential baby names! I’m so ungrateful.

          Regarding the video, I also liked the real children singing to Jenny. Other highlights were how they made Pickles slide down the pole and made it look like the firetruck was moving. I could go on and on.

          • It hit me after that comment you made about Benedict that my grandson would end up being named after the retired pope. So you saved him from a fate worse than—hmm, well, working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.

            Judging from the other comments, I think that list went over like vinegar-flavored potato chips. Some people liked them, but most didn’t. So I’m just going to keep quiet about naming the baby and hope my daughter and son-in-law don’t pick a clinker.

            Which post did you write about the vibrating fetus keychain? I mentioned that on my blog in response to something Laurie wrote. That thread is getting weird. I’m glad the blog is hidden from search engines, otherwise I could be getting some strange hits. (“Vibrating fetus” “amphibian baby” “Benedict Arnold Cumberbatch”)

  2. Lurkertype says:

    little miao loves The Fire Cat, but I don’t know if she knows about all the others. I’ll have to tell her.

  3. littlemiao says:

    How delightful! Apart from the Fire Cat, I’ve read the Hotel Cat and we possibly had the Moonlight one when I was little. I will definitely have to get hold of the others.

    Papa Miao quotes from The Fire Cat to the Miao kitties sometimes.

    • M-----l says:

      I tried to figure out which lines from The Fire Cat might be quoted. This is what I came up with…

      When the kitties are good: “What a wonderful cat you are!”
      When the kitties are bad: “Things cannot go on like this.”

      • littlemiao says:

        And something about big paws and doing big things. He also uses the general moral of the story to encourage them not to chase each other.

        Also, “A Fire Chief knows many things.” I really have no idea how my father manages to work that into everyday conversations with cats, considering that he isn’t a Fire Chief himself, but he does.

  4. Laura says:

    I am esther averill’s great niece and I love that you have this blog! I adore her books.

    • M-----l says:

      I’ve purchased a copy of Jenny Goes to Sea since I wrote this post. I still haven’t managed to track down the rare one, though.

    • Clairemarie says:

      Laura, I love the Jenny Linsky stories. I’ve been thinking about writing an article about your great aunt, but I haven’t been able to find a lot of biographical information. Would you be willing to contact me? Thanks so much.

    • Heidi & Joe says:

      How truly wonderful to learn that you are kin to miss esther! Do you know anything of the true identity of Captain Tinker and if so would it be seemly to share it with us?

    • Heidi & Joe says:

      How wonderful to learn that you are a relation of miss Esther’s. Do you know anything (and if so could you share it?) of who the true life Captain Tinker was?

  5. Chriself says:

    I named my cat Checkers when I was a little girl after Jenny’s black and white brother! I loved sweete little Jenny and her red scarf.

  6. Cynthia says:

    I have been trying to remember the name of the Jenny character for years! I loved these books on Captain Kangaroo! I have a new granddaughter, and i’m going to buy her the collection immediately! Thank you so much!!

  7. Sally Saw says:

    I loved these books as a child, and still do now that I’m 50! Admittedly, some aspects of the wild-n-wooly-webernet drive me crazy…but isn’t it just the coolest thing when one can one pop on and find others who not only actually know these vintage books, but adore them as I do! (As my teenager says—”What a time to be alive!”…although hers is in a snarky tone.) Reading this warmed my heart, and I must say, your handwritten checklist is one of the sweetest parts of your post. I’m quite certain Cat Club secretary, Concertina, would be most impressed!

  8. Pingback: The red spines make them easy to find. | Outgoing Signals

  9. aubrey says:

    Love these books – I’ve only just discovered them; I have Jenny’s Adopted Brothers and Jenny’s Birthday Book. I agree about the illustrations in the latter – they delighted me, especially the gift-wrapped fish.

    I find the books comforting and marvelous and mean to own them all.

    • M-----l says:

      I still haven’t read the out-of-print one, but I’ve read all the others twice. I’ll probably read them a third time and a fourth…depending on how long I live.

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