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Among my circle of pet-loving friends, The Cat Club books by Esther Averill have become popular. We’re unable to resist these adorable tales of a cute black kitty named Jenny and her feline companions. One of my friends even bought a few of the books for her daughters. After which, she lent two of them to me that I had yet to read. Now I’m bringing them to your attention.

Jenny Goes to Sea is about the adventures of four cats at sea. Soon after Jenny and two brothers board The Sea Queen, they meet the ship captain’s cat. Jack Tar tells Jenny and Edward that the two have come from a long line of the noble cats of Egypt and then gives their other sibling the mysterious news that some of his relations may have come from Siam. For several weeks, the cats amuse themselves by strolling decks, climbing ropes, counting whitecaps, and walking the gangplank. Just as they start to get bored, they see land ahead and decide to go ashore. This is when this sleepy adventure story starts to pick up pace. Sometime after getting his fortune told, Checkers goes off in search of a palace in Siam. This act results in Jenny disobeying her master and Jack Tar almost losing his job as the ship captain’s cat. At times the story felt almost too light-hearted and fanciful, but nonetheless this tale from 1957 contains an enduring innocence and charm.

Captains of the Streets is about how three rough-and-tumble street cats became part of The Cat Club. Born and raised in New York, Sinbad and The Duke took off for the south side of then city but soon found themselves hungry and desperate. They sought out Tramps Last Stop, a place known for providing cats with handouts. Here, they meet up with Patchy Pete who tried to steer them towards the east side. But nothing can deter the two brothers from searching for a place of their own. Patchy Pete accused them of being soft. They proved him wrong with their boxing abilities and with their cunning in finding food. Then through finding compassionate folks and intelligent feline companions, they also showed Patchy Pete why having a place of one’s own just might be a good idea. This tale from 1972 feels real to how street cats might live, while also providing readers with the satisfaction of a happy end. The story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite Cat Club books.

Fans of the Cat Club books will be happy to know that many of their favorite characters make an appearance in one of both books. Besides Jenny and her brothers, Pickles the fire cat appears in two chapters of Jenny Goes to Sea. The President and other Cat Club members are featured in more than one chapter of Captains of the Streets. These two titles should take a cherished place on your shelves, along with Jenny and the Cat Club.

A cat acquaintance of mine recommended Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to me. She and her children find it their favorite book about cats. After realizing that Averill was the author of the I Can Read picture book The Fire Cat, I bought a copy of Jenny and the Cat Club for myself and another cat friend. Since then, I have come to adore this series of stories about a cute black kitty and hope you will too.

Jenny Linsky is a shy cat. This is my number one reason for liking Averill’s stories. The literary world is full of mean cats, grumpy cats, obnoxious cats. So is the real world, of course. However, the real world is also full of sweet cats, playful cats, and lovable cats. Surely, despite the need for conflict and angst in a story, there’s room for these more pleasant cats too in literature?

CatClubMembersAverill proves there is, by basing her portrayal of Jenny on her own timid cat. In the lead story, Jenny watches the neighborhood cats socialize together in a club but flees in terror when two of them invite her to join the club. In the second story of the collection, Jenny finds herself sitting on an upturned basket and watching her friends rumba, because she can’t bring herself to ask anyone to teach her to dance. In a third story, Jenny’s scarf is stolen, and Jenny hesitates to say that she doesn’t want a new scarf or a toy. Rather, she just wants her red scarf returned that her Master had given her. With each new tale, Jenny becomes more confident and comfortable in her friendships. Yet she also always remains polite, mild-mannered, and considerate. That’s what I most appreciate about her.

The fact that Pickles, otherwise known as The Fire Cat, shows up as a character in Jenny and the Cat Club also drew me to the collection. I had first read Averill’s sympathetic story of this homeless cat as a child. Why The Fire Cat was one of the last I Can Read books that I relinquished, I don’t know. Perhaps it was one of my only storybooks about cats, in a library of animal books mostly about dogs. Maybe it was the fun color of Pickles, that of yellow with black spots. Or maybe it was that like Jenny, Pickles wanted to belong but struggled to because of his rough demeanor. At any rate, because Pickles is one of Jenny’s friends, I immediately wanted to like Jenny’s stories too.

Of course, the most obvious reason for my liking Jenny and the Cat Club is that it features five stories about cats. Ever since a stray cat named Lucy came into my life in 2006, I’ve developed a certain fondness for felines. I like to watch them, sit with them, hold them, and even read to them. Lucy died of kidney failure before I discovered Jenny and the Cat Club, but our new cat Cinder has heard all the tales. So has a feral cat that I temporarily fostered. They both approve of Jenny and the Cat Club, as I’m sure Lucy would have too.

JennyCatClub_DanceAfter all, what’s not to like about the simple and adventurous tales of Jenny Linksy, her benevolent master Captain Tinker, and her diverse assortment of friends? Some of Jenny’s friends are singers, some are dancers, some are sweethearts, some are fighters. All of them have their own quirks and stories. Of course, the most endearing is that of Jenny who can skate, find secret passages, brave wild dogs, and even share her home with two brothers.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Esther_AverillFamous 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.

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