Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Pinky Pye is Eleanor Estes’s sequel to her 1951 novel, Ginger Pye. In this delightful story, the Pye family discover an intrepid little kitten named Pinky and adopt her as their own. Amongst several notable talents, Pinky is a gifted typist who appears to be able to write her own fascinating ‘meditations’.

Do you ever read books purchased as gifts before presenting them? I am guilty of this vice. A warning, however: you run a high risk of getting caught. If the book turns out to be an irresistible page-turner, you’re sure to want to start blabbing about how wonderful it is. Before you know it you’ve confessed to reading what was supposed to be a present!

Recently I purchased a first edition copy of Eleanor Este’s Pinky Pye as a present for my co-proprietor and our chief children’s book buyer, Chris Hubbard. It’s a book he’s very fond of, so I thought a first edition copy with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone would be just the ticket. Of course once I had the book in my hands I couldn’t resist trying out the first few pages. Soon enough I’d lost control completely, bewitched by the adventures of the novel’s star attraction, a little black kitten called Pinky.

Eleanor Estes – Librarian and Children’s Writer

Eleanor Estes (1906 – 1988) was an American children’s author. Besides being an author she was also a librarian and was married to another librarian, Rice Estes. Pinky Pye (1958) is actually the sequel to another children’s novel, Ginger Pye (1951). Both novels concern the Pye family and their various pets.

There is not much of a plot in Pinky Pye, although Pinky, the little black kitten after whom the novel is named, would surely disagree. The Pye family, consisting of Papa, Mama, Jerry, Rachel and their dog Ginger and cat Gracie, travel to Fire Island because Mr Pye, an ornithologist or ‘bird man’, has to conduct a professional study of the island’s birds. Uncle Bennie, the three year old younger brother of Mama Pye, also accompanies the family on this trip. Amongst other interesting incidents on Fire Island, the family discover a little black kitten caught in a crab net with a tag around her neck. On the tag the name ‘Pinky’ is written. The family become instantly enamoured of the charming little kitten and adopt her as a Pye.

Pinky’s Fascinating Inner Life

Pinky is a thoughtful and sometimes opinionated kitten. When Papa Pye sits at his typewriter, Pinky takes to sitting on his lap and tapping at the keys. Soon both Mr Pye and Pinky are working the keys together to write Pinky’s ‘Meditations’, fascinating literary sketches that reveal Pinky’s inner life, her opinions and alas, there is no way around it, her sometimes prickly attitudes. That’s Pinky’s inner life. Eleanor Estes does a wonderful job of describing Pinky’s outward feline personality as well. Every flick of the tail, questioning meow (pronounced in the novel as ‘woe’), licking of the paw and other signature moves gets related in fine detail. When Pinky does something particularly cute or endearing, the family chorus in unison ‘Awww – ‘. These are wonderfully funny moments, almost poking fun at the writer and reader for being such clucky kitten fans.

Mr Pye has a friend, the fellow ornithologist Mr H. Hiram Bish, who, while sailing on the S. S. Pennsylvania with his wife, loses his rare pet owl in a storm.  By a miraculous turn of events, the Pye family (led by the cats Gracie and Pinky) discover the whereabouts of the owl.

The Pleasure of Summer Holidays by the Sea

Pinky Pye is an utter joy and delight to read. Estes’s naturalistic prose is light and breezy, capturing her story’s many humourous and uncanny events with a cheerful and infectious tone. Her novel very much reminded me of Gerald Durrell’s classic My Family and Other Animals, published in 1956, two years before Pinky Pye. Both novels are about a family that travels to an island for a holiday and experience many of the wonders of the natural world. Durell’s family travel to the Greek island of Corfu and stay in a small cottage, while the Pyes travel to Fire Island and stay in a cottage called The Eyrie. Both stories are full of humour and contain a palpable atmosphere of the pleasures of summer holidays by the sea.

It’s a tribute to Estes’s qualities as a writer that I was absolutely sure while reading Pinky Pye that her father must also have been an ornithologist, so convincingly does she capture the life of the Pye family, especially Papa Pye, but a quick reading of Wikipedia (if it is correct), reveals that Estes’s father was actually a bookkeeper. It’s a mystery to me how she created such a realistic family. I was sure the novel must be autobiographical.

Reading Pinky Pye was an absolute pleasure. I laughed at little Pinky’s escapades and experienced the childlike wonder of visiting new places for the first time. Absolutely brilliant.

Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes. Published by Odyssey Classics. ISBN: 978152025656.  $14.95