Famous for her cat books, Esther Averill was born in Connecticut in 1902. She began her career as a teenage storyteller drawing cartoons for her local newspaper.
After graduating from Vassar College with honors in 1923, she joined the editorial staff of Women’s Wear Daily in New York. Two years later, she moved to France to work as a photojournalist’s assistant.
There, Averill also founded her own company, the Domino Press. According to Wikipedia, the company specialized in “children’s picture books illustrated by gifted young artists and reproduced by means of the excellent color processes that were available”. Domino’s first publication was a book illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky, who later won a U.S. Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration. Domino published several other children’s books before it ceased operations in 1938.
Three years later, Averill returned to the United States and found a job in children’s department at the New York Public Library. She also began work on her cat stories, the characters of which NY Books reports were based on cats Averill owned or knew.
In 1944, Averill wrote and illustrated The Cat Club, the first in a series of stories about the red-scarfed, mild-mannered Jenny Linsky, who lived in New York City with her master, the benevolent Captain Tinker. Between 1944 and 1972, Averill wrote and illustrated a dozen more stories about Jenny Linsky and her cat friends, including the I Can Read Book: The Fire Cat. The cat club books proved to be Averill’s most popular works, and were eventually translated into six languages.
Averill died in New York City on May 19, 1992. Starting in 2003, a series of reissues by the New York Review Children’s Collection brought all the cat club titles except for Jenny’s Bedside Book back into print.