Author: Phyllis Whitney
Illustrator: Ezra Jack Keats
Publication: The Westminster Press, hardcover, 1954
Genre: Juvenile Mystery
Setting: ScotlandDescription: When a serious illness sends her beloved Grandmother MacLeod to the hospital, Cathy finds herself on the trip of a lifetime to the Isle of Skye with relatives she barely knows – her mother’s brother Jerry, his wife Lila, and two cousins, Don and Punch. Mrs. MacLeod came from Skye and, despite her illness, managed to organize a box of messages and surprises for Cathy to open periodically on her trip, which will help her explore her Scotch heritage and make friends with her cousins. Although the mystery is slight, Skye and its history are an incredible backdrop to a family vacation that leads to orphaned Cathy finding a new home.
My Impression: Phyllis Whitney was a prolific author and I read all her books my library possessed. This was my favorite of her juvenile mysteries and reflects her love of her Scottish heritage. I also liked a YA novel she wrote called The Highest Dream (1956), about a young woman who becomes a tour guide at the United Nations. I read some of her adult historicals and gothics but did not find them as appealing as those by some of her contemporaries. However, Mystery on the Isle of Skye, while not very mysterious, was a delightful story. I was reminded of it recently by a post on Ms. Yingling Reads in which she reminisced about how much she had enjoyed 13 Little Blue Envelopes. That book also uses the device of having the heroine receive messages from an ailing family member that inspire adventure and (for want of a less cringey phrase) self-growth, so I decided a reread was in order. Even at 9 or 10, I am sure I found the plot predictable but I like the way Cathy is thrilled by the history of Skye and Dunvegan Castle, how she makes friends with locals, her enjoyment of the notes from her grandmother, and the descriptions of bagpipers and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Having read Lorna Hill’s books set in Skye last summer and becoming reacquainted with this one, I am determined to visit Skye myself.
I did not remember until my copy arrived from the library that Ezra Jack Keats (best known for The Snowy Day) illustrated this book! By an odd coincidence, when I joined the de Grummond book discussion group the very day I started rereading this book, I “met” a delightful woman who has completed a biography on Keats (the Ezra Jack Keats papers are housed at the de Grummond Collection at USM). Another coincidence – she is hoping it will be published by the University Press of Mississippi which published my father’s book, Count Them One by One. She told me that Ezra’s artwork was spotted by the editorial director of Thomas Crowell Publishing, Elizabeth Riley, best known to me and many of my friends as the editor of Maud Hart Lovelace and Lenora Mattingly Weber. Miss Riley then commissioned Keats’ first illustrations of children’s books and changed his career. How I wish I had met Miss Riley more than once before her death!
Links: WorldCat * AbeBooksSource: InterLibrary Loan. This is my fifth book for the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.
Photo of Skye is copyright to the Boston Globe.