Tag: Animals Fiction

by Esther Averill

I think of all the “Jenny” books, this one is my favorite so far. It’s not a bunch of short stories together like the others, but a proper little chapter book. And the main character is a different cat who happens to meet Jenny and the others mid-story. At first he’s a stray, gets taken in by the furnace man in a city hotel, who lets him stay in the basement as he does a good job keeping the mice and rats away. Tom, our feline protagonist, gets pretty good at his job and soon wants to explore the rest of the hotel. He takes on a self-appointed guardian role, patrolling all the floors at night. There’s no mice to chase up there, but he soon finds out by sniffing at the doors which rooms have guests who brought a cat with them.

At first Tom’s reaction is to threaten these cats to stay put and cause no trouble- he feels like they’re in his territory. But he meets a kind old lady who lives in the hotel and can somehow “speak ‘cat’ ” and gives him advice. She says he should make the cat guests feel welcome instead. Tom tries to change his approach, but it takes some practice. He gets better with a little made-up welcome speech he rehearses. Then comes to a room one night that’s hosting three cats- and they are quite friendly through the door! It’s Jenny and her two adopted brothers, staying with the Captain (because it’s winter and the heating broke in their home). In a few days Jack the sailor cat joins them, and then more and more cats are in other rooms throughout the hotel- because more boilers have burst in older houses during this very cold spell. And they all happen to be the houses around the one yard where the Cat Club meets. So of course all these guest cats know each other, but Tom doesn’t realize that at first. When he does figure it out, he feels quite frantic to keep things under control- he worries that if they get out of their rooms to find each other, it will be chaos or someone will get lost. Even when Sinbad and the Duke, two of the rougher Cat Club members, come to stay in the cellar with him, he doesn’t let on for a long time that their friends are all in rooms upstairs. Of course the Cat Club members eventually find out, and then they are all eager to have a meeting. With Tom’s help they turn it into quite an event, with dancing in an old dusty ballroom. Tom feels a bit out of place at first, but then gets quite a surprise at being honored and recognized by all the other cats for his good work and friendliness.

Why did I like this one better than the others? I’m trying to think that through. Maybe because it felt more cohesive- a real story instead of just some interconnected short chapters. Perhaps because Tom’s character growth, and seeing the Cat Club characters from another perspective, was more interesting. Yes, Jenny getting over her shyness is a main part of all the other books. This one was about an alley cat, full of suspicions and uncertainty at first, who learned how to live in the nice old hotel, how to behave better towards his cat guests, and act differently to keep them as friends. It really was quite nice.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 6/4/24.

Rating: 3/4
162 pages, 1969

More opinions: Becky’s Book Reviews
anyone else?

by Esther Averill

Jenny the little black cat goes along a sea voyage with her owner, the Captain, and her two adopted ‘brothers’ Checkers and Edward. They are welcomed by the ship’s cat Jack Tar, who shows them around. Jack tells them all about far-away places he’s seen, including Siam, where he says Checker’s ancestors must be from (he thinks Checkers has some Siamese traits). The first place the ship stops is Cape Town, where Jack goes ashore. Our traveling cats feel anxious about this, especially Jenny, who is afraid to walk on the narrow gangplank. They visit with the Captain while their host cat is ashore, learning more about things aboard the ship and its cargo. The next stop is Zanzibar, where all the cats go ashore and meet an Abbyssinian cat who reads their fortunes on their paws. They all wonder how their fortunes will play out- Jenny is supposed to do something brave, Checkers will be naughty, and Edward write a great poem.

Then the ship goes to Singapore, where they meet another ship’s cat on shore leave- who has just finished hopping from one boat to another trying to catch up with his own ship (he was too late when it left the last port). He’s anxiously waiting to see if his original ship arrives as scheduled at this dock, and our protagonist cats help him while away the time by dancing together (the sailor’s hornpipe, of course). His ship does arrive and they gladly see him off, then scramble aboard their own. They suffer through a storm before arriving at their next port: Siam. Here a Siamese cat shows them around on a sampan, and they are all enthralled with the sights, until they realize Checkers is missing. He had wandered off, eager to visit a palace (which was denied when he asked to do so earlier) and see if he can find out more about his heritage. Jack and Edward go off to find him while Jenny performs her act of bravery: standing on the narrow, tilted gangplank to prevent the ship from leaving, giving the other cats time. They do arrive at last, all the cats bolt aboard, greatly relieved. Checkers apologizes for almost making Jack miss his ship. Edward writes a poem about the whole escapade, and the cats happily arrive back home at last- stopping briefly in Hawai’i and the California coast, before finally New York, where Pickles greets them at the dock.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 6/1/24.

Rating: 3/5

by Esther Averill

Another book about the little black cat, Jenny. When the cat club gathers one night, the pretty Persian falls while climbing down a drainpipe from her window. She hurts her paw and is shut up in the house to recover. She’s also dropped and lost her special nose flute. The other cats find it and Jenny volunteers to return the flute to her friend, even though she is frightened. As the Persian’s house is on the other side of the block, she has to walk all the way around on city streets, braving the way through some dogs she’s sure to encounter. And she does. The dogs surround her, but Jenny finds a way out of the situation, and successfully returns her friend’s flute.

Cute and sweet story, especially about the little cat facing her fear of the dogs. I was puzzled though, about what a ‘nose flute’ is, and why Jenny was chosen to carry it- there’s a picture of a thing that looks a bit like a kazoo with holes on the top, and two little prongs that yes, fit into the Persian’s nostrils. Who played the flute by blowing through the nose. It didn’t fit any other cat’s nose, so Jenny volunteered to carry it in her scarf. Why another cat couldn’t carry it in his mouth, I don’t know (because in another story, one carried a ball around that way). But sure, it gave Jenny a good reason to be the one to go on a brave little adventure.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/28/24.

Rating: 3/5
36 pages, 1949

More opinions:
Becky’s Book Reviews
Red Nose
anyone else?

or, the Life and Times of Jenny Linsky

by Esther Averill

More stories about the shy little cat in the big city. There’s a group of neighborhood cats that gathers in the Captain’s backyard in a sort of club. Jenny watches them secretly, but is afraid to attempt joining, because each cat has to prove a special talent to be accepted into the club. Jenny thinks she doesn’t have any remarkable talent. But then she longs to skate, and rummages through the house looking for skates, until the Captain makes her some. She goes gliding about on a frozen pond, the other cats all admire her in amazement, and she’s promptly invited to join the club.

In the next chapter, Jenny and her friend Pickles go wandering about the town at night, looking for something to do. They meet up with a bunch of other cats who are having a party, dancing in a vacant lot. Jenny is shy about joining the dance. She sits behind a barrel to watch, and then starts dancing by herself, the one dance she knows well: the sailor’s hornpipe. Then the other cats spy her movements and they want to learn this dance too, so Jenny finds herself included.

Third chapter, Jenny looses her special red scarf: it gets stolen by a dog who takes it into the dogs’ den, where Jenny is afraid to venture. Her friends in the cat club make several attempts to help her get the scarf back (or replace it) but to no avail. Then there’s an emergency in the dogs’ den! Pickles goes to help, and Jenny is afraid to loose her scarf forever. She stays away from the scene however, realizing that the job Pickles does is more important than her scarf. He saves the ungrateful dogs and her pretty red scarf, too.

Next we see Jenny meet two strange cats that wander into her yard: they are homeless and hungry. Jenny kindly offers to share her home with them. The two adopted brothers are very glad to have a comfortable place to live and enough food to eat. But after welcoming them, Jenny starts to feel peeved that they take over her favorite spots in the house, and jealous of the attention the Captain gives him. She starts to wonder if maybe she would rather have the house to herself again. But then learns to share.

The last chapter shows the two brothers attempting to join the exclusive cat club. One of them, Checkers, has a trick of retrieving a ball that everyone feels sure will impress. The other cat says he spends his time in the closet (his ‘office’) writing things, but Jenny has her doubts: nobody’s seen any pages actually produced. And when he recites a bit of poem as an example, she has more doubts. She kindly makes suggestions as to what kind of writing will interest the cat club members, and everyone is surprised at the lively poem about a pirate cat that Edward tells with lots of flair, at his first cat club meeting!

Charming, with lovely little illustrations and very catlike characters, even if they do talk and wear occasional bits of clothing. Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/27/24.

Rating: 3/5
162 pages, 1944

by Esther Averill

This is the book with Pickles that I so dearly remembered when I picked up the first Jenny book! It was really nice to revisit it and see what leaped back out of my memory from so long ago. It’s about a distinctive-looking cat, yellow with black round spots, who seems to be an alley cat of sorts- he lives in a barrel in a yard. Likes his independence. Chases others cats, so the cats that live in the building shun him. But a lady thinks that he has some good traits too, that can be brought out by a change of environment. She brings him into the house, which is comfortable, but doesn’t suit him. He’s soon bored and wants to be outside in his barrel again. He chases a little cat up a tree and gets stuck there himself. Has to be rescued by firemen. They bring him down and offer him to the lady but she says he’s not really her cat. The firemen admire Pickles and take him back to the firehouse where he settles in. He watches the firemen and copies what they do- learning to slide down the fireman’s pole (trying again and again until he can do it), balance on the seat of the speeding firetruck, and helping to hold the hose and put out fires. His efforts are noticed and he’s made an official “firecat”. Pickles is proud of his new job. And when there’s another call to rescue a cat stuck up in a tree, Pickles himself goes up the ladder to bring her down. It’s nice to see a story about a somewhat rambunctious, naughty character who isn’t forced to change but found a place that suits his abilities and shapes them into something beneficial.

Note: I don’t have a category for ‘early readers’ but that’s what level this book is. More advanced than a picture book, few and short chapters with simple sentences. Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/27/24.

Rating: 3/5
64 pages, 1988

by Esther Averill

Jenny the little black cat is celebrating her birthday. She meets her cat friends outside on the streets of the city. Two of them bring fish from a shop, and Pickles brings a basket of goodies. They go to the local park (riding in Pickles’ fire truck), where they feast on the treats and then proclaim that all will do what Jenny chooses. She likes best to dance, so they dance the sailor’s hornpipe (she belongs to a sea Captain), and then after the party, make their way back home. Jenny goes to sleep in her basket content and pleased with the day, wishing that all cats could have a birthday as happy as hers was. That’s all. Very simple and sweet. I read the Jenny stories out of order but now recognize most of the characters in this one. I think it probably appealed to children who already knew Jenny from the other books.

It felt particularly nostalgic to me because the format of the book and the style and limited color palette of the illustrations, reminded me very much of Goodnight Moon and the ones about Angus (a Scottie dog), which I feel inclined to look for again now!

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/26/24.

Rating: 2/5
42 pages, 1954

by Mary Elizabeth Edgren

This isn’t usual for me, but I started reading this book the same day I bought it, at a library sale. Waiting for my kid and just fished a book out of the bag to idle away the time. Found it interesting enough I kept going, though by the end I decided not to look for the sequel. I liked some aspects of this story, others not so much. It’s about a family of somewhat anthropomorphic raccoons. They live in the forest, foraging for their food and have other habits just like real raccoons. But they talk to each other, have humanlike postures (in the pictures), make stretchers and beds, care for their injured and sick, use clamshells to hold water, teach themselves how to read, etc. Most of this I was able to accept and go along with as part of the story, but it got more and more unbelievable further into the book.

The main raccoon family gets displaced by a forest fire and has to find a new home. They have to avoid a rival group of raccoons who compete for territory and food resources. They end up rather close to some human habitations, which makes the older raccoons nervous and cautious, but the young ones are curious. A big part of the story is about how the young raccoons learn from the older ones to behave well, to be kind and obedient, and so on. Mainly because this raccoon family “follows the Maker” and the whole thing has a strong religious bent. There’s a mythology among the raccoons about how humans used to also adhere to the Maker’s teachings but fell away long ago and became enemies instead. These raccoons have specific teachings, a thing like raccoon version of a Rosetta stone that lets them translate human writing (very painstakingly), and eschew eating other animals as part of their moral code. The rival raccoons by the way, don’t follow any such teachings, eat anything they can find (like real raccoons) and are unpleasant, fierce and aggressive.

So one little raccoon goes over a wall on the edge of the forest and discovers a church with a graveyard (though they don’t know what any of that is). They puzzle over the writing on the gravestones, thinking it means something. They make contact with a little girl who gives them food, and then starts leaving them written messages, which they are able to decipher. One of the raccoons figures out how to write back to her, using mud instead of ink. It was quite clever. Where the story really lost me was how the raccoons were able to translate a Bible and read it, and from there extrapolate what some of the pictures they saw on papers left around the church meant, and make huge leaps of comprehension in regards to religious history. It just did not make any sense to me, even in the context of this fiction. How they could go from barely understanding a handwritten note that simply said “for you” to not only translating but reading and grasping entire pages of the Bible, was nonsensical to me. It was just too much. And to really hammer home the message, there’s a whole parallel series of events among the raccoons, where one of the rival group comes over to the “good” family’s side, a young one among them betrays their presence to a hunter, is forgiven by the elders, and an older raccoons puts himself in mortal danger to protect the group. Making the “ultimate sacrifice”. It was a touching story, it was just too overdone with the religious ideas and the crazy implications about what the raccoons could understand. I like my fiction to keep within some degree of reason. Or at least to follow its own logic

I did like that the raccoons called the humans “Uprights”. That was a unique take on it (usually books with talking animals refer to people as “two-legs” or something similar). The drawings by Kathryn Penk Koch are charming in their own way. (I was very surprised to see someone else’s review online remark that they learned so much about raccoons from this book. Uh, but raccoons don’t live and act this way!)

In a nutshell: raccoons in the forest find a new home, deal with rivals, learn to read the Bible and follow God.

Completed on 5/25/24.

Rating: 2/5
178 pages, 1989

A Mostly True Story

by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Based on some experiences the author had as a child, not sure how much is fictional. It’s all about one summer when she obsesses over getting a dog. She’s a loner, likes walking in the woods and fishing. Her mother keeps encouraging her to make friends, but she insists she doesn’t need a friend, she needs a dog who will accompany her on her favorite activities. She even has a picture of this dog in her head and daydreams about it constantly. But her brother is very allergic. She collects animals out of the woods (much like lonely child in Fetch, but in this case fairly well-cared for) and spends her time with them. Then fate seems to put a dog in her path, she and her sister beg, and the parents allow them to keep it- as long as it stays in the basement or yard. Thrilled to finally have a dog, a bit disgruntled at having to share him with her sister, and turning a blind eye as long as she can to his misbehavior. Some of the incidents were very funny, a lot just a dog being a dog- and then there’s the one that led to the title! (Which made me think of Ramona for some reason). Eventually some trouble the dog causes- especially with neighbors down the road who have a prized hunting dog in heat- and they usually sell her puppies for good money- you can guess what happens there- makes her father lay down the law: one more incident, and the dog has to go. Of course she tries to keep the dog under control, but finally enough’s enough. The ending was kind of sad, and a bit abrupt. Most of the story is about these long days of summer, dealing with siblings, roaming the woods, wheedling with her parents, trying to handle the dog. It didn’t impress me super much, but I enjoyed the read.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/20/24.

Rating: 3/5
120 pages, 2003

by Esther Averill

What a cute little book. I found it browsing the J Fic shelves (still my current level of reading concentration, most days). I almost instantly recognized the illustration style and one of the characters: we had a copy of the book about the firehouse cat when I was a kid, and he’s in this one too. But the main character is Jenny, a shy little black cat who lives with a ship’s captain. When her owner goes away to sea, Jenny is sent to a kind of boarding school for cats. It’s an odd little fantasy: the cats talk to each other and do silly things like drive toy cars, but when a kid walking by the yard asks the woman who runs the school if they really teach cats to read and do arithmetic there, she laughs and says oh no, we just teach them manners and how to get along with each other. So it’s more like a boarding kennel for cats? but with schooling mixed in. And they sleep in beds in a row. With posts made of tree branch sections to scratch their claws on. Very amusing.

Well, Jenny arrives at the school very nervous and scared of everything- the new environment, the other cats, the very idea of school. She hides under a bed and just watches what goes on at first. If the other cats behave well, they get dried catnip to roll around in as a treat before bedtime. Jenny has just gotten brave enough to venture out and sit with the other cats when she gets scared again. This time by a deliberate action: one of the other cats is Pickles (from the firehouse book!) He has a miniature-sized fire engine with a ladder that he can drive, and he zooms it around chasing the other cats and showing off. Jenny is so terrified by the fire engine she bolts up the chimney and won’t come out. She stays there all night, and when next morning finally looses her grip and falls down, she dashes out the front door and runs away. Everyone goes out looking, but they can’t find Jenny. She runs through the village to the train station, hoping to somehow get on a train back home to her Captain. While hiding there, she sees two other cats arrive on the train for the School, and admires them. Overhears some conversation that makes her start to regret running away. Maybe she would like some of the things at school after all. She certainly would like to get to know these two cats.

But then something else frightens her and she runs again, off into the nearby forest. Turns out the forest isn’t scary to Jenny at all. She feels interested in everything and confident there. She meets a fox and watches the birds. And then goes back to the school, where she is welcomed without fuss. Except that Pickles brings out his fire engine again, just to see what she will do. And she runs at him with fire blazing out of her ears, overturning the fire engine and impressing Pickles, who never bothers her with it again. In fact they become friends, and Jenny ends up enjoying her summer at the school.

I guess it’s a story about facing down a bully, who is just picking on others to amusing himself and be something of a pest. Or about this little shy cat finding ways to be brave. Really it’s rather endearing and the illustrations, though a bit awkward-looking sometimes, are quite charming. I’ve gone and requested from the library all the other books they have in this series- I never knew there were so many!

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/19/24.

Rating: 3/5
32 pages, 1947

More opinions: Becky’s Book Reviews
anyone else?

a Dog

by George Pelecanos

I didn’t realize how short this book was until I held it in my hands. I suppose it was noted in the online summary that it’s a novella, and I just didn’t notice. That would have been okay, except the writing style and some of the content just didn’t work for me. It’s the story of a dog’s life, a boxer. He’s born into a family in D.C., plays with his siblings, learns human language from the people around him and watching television. So from the very beginning in the book, the dog was discussing human concerns and what they did as if he easily understood everything. (Far beyond what I think even a very intelligent dog would grasp). It reminded me a lot of Black Beauty, albeit a lot briefer, rough-around-the-edges and of course, a modern setting- as the dog goes through so many different hands, before finally ending up in a loving home. His first home, where his mother lives, is with a poor family. The mother can barely feed all the kids well, let alone the dogs. A man who comes to the apartment to do some work sees the dogs and immediately cajols the owner into giving him a puppy. So Buster goes to a new home. Here he’s purportedly the son’s pet, but really there as a status symbol for the owner, and because he hopes to make money breeding him. The dog is beaten for wrongdoing, corrected with a pinch collar, and often left tied out in the yard. Eventually the owner gets reported and Buster is taken by animal control officers, but he busts loose and runs free before they reach the shelter. He knows and fears what that is, from having heard people (and his mother) mentioning it. Runs around on the streets for several days, hungry and getting sick from eating garbage. Then he’s taken in by an old man who just lost his beloved elderly dog. Soon it’s apparent the old man can’t take care of him properly, and gives him to his grown son. This man treats him decently, but makes his living as a drug dealer. When he’s caught by law enforcement, the dog ends up in a shelter for real this time. His owner eventually gets freed from jail and comes for the dog, who thinks that life is good again. But that man’s mode of living isn’t stable, more bad things happen, the dog finds himself at loose ends and runs on the streets again. This time he’s picked up by someone who finds him wandering in a park. He’s taken him by a very nice family, and all is good at last. The end.

I received my copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5
88 pages, 2024

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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