Books NYRB Picture Books

NYRB Reading Week: Jenny Goes to Sea, Story and Pictures by Esther Averill

Jenny Goes to Sea by Esther Averill

After reviewing Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, I thought that the Jenny Linsky NYRB Children’s Collection would be a nice breather from decidedly heavygoing themes. This was a very quick read – I finished reading the book and writing down my notes while in the community library Tuesday afternoon.

The storyline is very easy to follow – and highly effective in its stark simplicity. The language is likewise straightforward – making this an ideal chapter book for beginning readers.

The story begins with Jenny Linsky, the elegant black cat with a 

Jenny and her adopted brothers Edward and Checkers all packed and ready to go

red scarf, saying goodbye to her friends in New York as she and her adopted brothers, Edward and Checkers go onboard the Sea Queen with their master Captain Tinker. An adventure, yes! As she says goodbye to her Cat Club (how utterly sophisticated), Mr. President did a bit of research to provide Jenny with a few more details regarding her upcoming journey with her brothers. As Mr. President noted:  ‘It is not enough to feel things in one’s bones’ Mr. President said briskly “Our Cat Club wishes facts whenever possible.” A group of social scientist cats who take pride in empiricism! How can you possibly go wrong with this chapter book. They must have read Dawkins.

The narrative does not give way too much details about the ship, anchor, or any seaport jargon – the little terms it does use, it explains in very clear, simple terminologies. It’s basically a travelogue of Jenny who was fortunate enough to travel around the world with her brothers.

Map detailing Jenny’s Journey around the Globe

The first friend they made in their voyage is Jack Tar the cat of Sea Queen, their ship. He strikes me as a world-weary cat who has accumulated profound wisdom from his many travels around the globe. Thus, upon meeting them for the first time, he immediately assessed that Jenny and Edward have come down from the noble cats of Ancient Egypt.

An Egyptian Cat
Another Egyptian Cat with Royal Bearing

Whereas, Checkers definitely came from Siam. According to Jack Tar:

“There are certain things about you that remind me of the cats who live in Siam. That pointed face of yours, and the fur that grows like a hood around your eyes, and your long thin tail that looks like a whip. These things would tell me, if nothing else did.”

A Siamese Cat

How very wise indeed. The first stop in their long journey is in South Africa where they saw the Table Mountain, noted to be one of the great wonders of the world according to Jack Tar.


Coastline View of Table Mountain South Africa – click link to be taken to source

He also talked about the delicacy in the area (which he ate, most naturally) – South African lobster tails, said to be one of the famous dishes in the country.

South African Lobster Tails

The cat crew traveled next to Zanzibar (how exotic sounding) where they traveled to a hotel for lunch (and ate oysters!), met an

An Abyssinian Cat

Abyssinian Cat who tells fortunes and smelled the deliciously spicy scent of clove buds around the air: “It seemed like a town right out of a fairy tale. On the streets walked Arab men in long white robes, with fezzes, red or white, on their heads.”

The third stop is the reason why I wanted to review this book in the first place (animal tales are not really my favorite – although I do not dislike them, I have quite a number of favorites within this genre as well) – they came ashore in Singapore! Here, they met Bobo the Burmese cat who unfortunately was left behind by his ship.

According to their travel guide, Jack Tar: “ ‘Days may be warm in Singapore,’ he remarked ‘but nights are cool.’” Must have been true in the 1940s. Right now, the humidity is just about enough to

Jenny and Crew doing a Moonshine Dance in Singapore

drive any cat clawing up a wall – shrieking cat dirges – day or night – ok, fine, the nights are slightly better, but still. Unfortunately for these cats, they had no chance to eat the famous chili crab – rather, they had a Chinese meal of shrimp and rice and danced under the moonshine! How quaint, totally guileless and utterly charming.

Travel continues to Bangkok where they went to the Palace where the Royal and Sacred Cats of Siam used to live. Here they met a princess Cat, named Dara, said to be Siamese for ‘star.’ The cats get to see sampans on the rivers (canoe-shaped boats)


A Sampan in Bangkok

and they were taken to the City of Gods and the Floating Market.

Floating Market in Thailand

After Bangkok, they traveled to Long Beach California where they ordered hamburgers without the buns.

Long Beach California

Aside from the entire travelogue and details pertaining to the countries that they visit (perfect for young kids being introduced to geography, different countries and cultures, and who may have a fascination with cats), there were also certain issues that need to be resolved – involving Abyssinian prophecies, mischief performed while in a trance-like state, and displays of loyalty and courage in the face of a crisis.

Jenny Goes to Sea is actually part of the Jenny Linsky chronicles created by Esther Averill which was initially published in 1944. The first book is entitled The Cat Club (see here for more details regarding Jenny Linsky and the Cat Club) and much of the stories revolve around the shy, red-scarfed, black cat Jenny, her adopted brothers Edward and Checkers and her master, a kind old sailor who goes by the name of Captain Tinker. These cats are New Yorkers – a lot of this may have to do with the fact that the author/illustrator Esther Averill worked as a librarian at the New York Public Library while being an author and illustrator (click here for a more detailed bio of the author). The illustrations are not much, but they have a lovely, charming, timeless quality to them that you can connect to.

Book cover –
Table Mountain, South Africa –
Extensive biography of Esther Averill:
Jenny Linsky with black and white cat –
Abyssinian Cat –
Siamese Cat –
Noble cat from ancient Egypt –
Egyptian Cat –
Picture of a Sampan –
Floating Market –
Long Beach California –
South African Lobster Tails –

Jenny Goes to Sea by Esther Averill

Amazon | Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

5 comments on “NYRB Reading Week: Jenny Goes to Sea, Story and Pictures by Esther Averill

  1. Mary of GatheringBooks

    This seemed like quite a straightforward book. I like the cats. Then again, I like cats. I almost owned a 75% siamese cat hadn’t we had pet restriction in the building. The book it seems, based on your review, is a nice way to introduce children to various places around the world.


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Yes. No concealed issues that need sorting out – no hidden intents or raging motivations driving the writing. Just your plain ole’ uncomplicated, unpretentious chapter book for kids (possibly aged 3-6). =)


  2. Pingback: NYRB Reading Week: A Reflective and Summative Postscript |

  3. It may be plain and unpretentious, but it sounds like the perfect book to introduce the cuisine and culture of different countries to my kids. To be honest, I don’t really like animal tales, either, but my kids do seem to like their animal characters.

    Thank you for your wonderful reviews. Just checked the stats, and Gathering Books collectively has the most number of reviews for the NYRB Reading week.:)


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Hi Honey, we are such book addicts in the literal sense of the word!! Hahhahaa. Yes, you’d be able to finish this book in 60 minutes, tops. And your kids would love it given its exotic references to faraway lands. Yup, I’ve posted a summative postscript as well. =)


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