I didn’t know, until I was looking for information about the author of The Fire Cat, that Esther Averill wrote a series of cat stories. In 1944, she published her first story about the cat, Jenny Linsky, Jenny and the Cat Club.
In a note From the Author in a 1973 edition, Averill says:
“Yes, Jenny was real–a very real cat. I knew her in the days when I lived in a house by the big garden where she lived with her master, Captain Tinker. Night after night, from my garden window, I watched little Jenny, wearing her red scarf, jump from a downstairs window of the Captain’s house to attend the meetings of the Cat Club.”
The twelve Cat Club books were published separately from 1944 to 1972. The edition I acquired was a collection of stories. Each story is approximately 30 pages long. Included are: The Cat Club, Jenny’s First Party, When Jenny Lost Her Scarf, Jenny’s Adopted Brothers, and How the Brothers Joined the Cat Club.
These are fun and funny stories in which it seems cats behave like cats when people are looking, but do extraordinary things when no humans are around. Jenny is a shy, timid cat, and the stories often turn on Jenny getting into a tight situation because of her fear. She has to learn to overcome her fear, and she is able to summon more courage when she thinks about others rather than herself. She is dedicated to doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. And she is devoted to honoring Captain Tinker, who took her in when she was homeless. He knitted her the red scarf she wears in nearly all the pictures.
In The Cat Club, Jenny is new to the neighborhood, and she longs to join the Cat Club that meets in Captain Tinker’s yard. But she is too shy, and she discovers that all the members have some special talent. She has no special talent. Somehow, the Captain divines what her wish is, and makes her four tiny, shiny ice skates for Christmas. Jenny learns to skate on the pond, and she is unanimously voted into the Cat Club.
It is hilarious that the club motto includes “Dues.” In the city, even cats need money in order to have fun.
The second Cat Club story was The School for Cats, which I found in a separate book. The school is a place where cats learn manners, but sometimes cats are sent there when their owners have to be away from home. The Captain sends Jenny to school because he has to go on a long sea voyage. This is where Jenny meets the Fire Cat, Pickles. Pickles is sent there to get him out of the city during the hot summer, but he is also very much in need of learning good manners. I laughed at this picture of Pickles in his own little hook and ladder truck the firemen made for him, which they allowed him to take to school. They don’t realize he is going to use it to terrorize the other cats. He is a severe trial to Jenny until two new friends help her stand up to him. Then they become fast friends.
Pickles is involved in Jenny’s First Party. The Captain has gone out for supper, and the Cat Club isn’t meeting, so she goes to the Fire Department to look for Pickles. They don’t have any money so, with another friend, they go out hunting for something fun to do. They happen upon a party where Alice Featherlegs, a cat famous for her beauty and dancing, is the center of attention. Jenny feels set aside until she remembers that the Captain taught her to dance the sailor’s hornpipe. Then they all dance till early morning, and Jenny goes home tired and happy.
Jenny loses her Scarf when a bad dog steals it from the clothesline where it was hung to dry. The dog takes it to the Den of the Dogs, and there is no way for the cats to get past the guard dog to get it back. While the cats are trying to figure out what to do, the dogs foolishly set fire to their building, and Pickles is with the fire crew that puts out the fire. In the midst of the emergency, he remembers to rescue the scarf!
Jenny’s Adopted Brothers are two strays she meets who are badly in need of food and a home. She selflessly convinces the Captain to adopt both cats, but then struggles with jealousy when she realizes the sacrifices involved in sharing the house, and everything in it, with two other cats. Jenny does the right thing, and the Captain makes the brothers a tiny bunk bed so everyone has his or her own sleeping place.
We already know that, in order to join the Cat Club, a cat must have a special talent. One of Jenny’s new brothers, Checkers, knows how to retrieve a ball. Edward says his talent is writing, but, when it’s time to go to a meeting and ask to join the club, no one has actually seen him write anything. With some prompting from Jenny that any poem he writes for the club ought to shiver their whiskers, Edward dazzles them with “A Poem” about a ghost cat.
For beginning readers, the Cat Club books would be good read alouds. An interested, confident reader could work through these with help.
For more book suggestions for young readers, see the lists on our Early Readers page.
You can learn more about all the Cat Club books at biblioguides.com.