Sunday, March 21, 2021

Mystery on the Isle of Skye by Phyllis A. Whitney

Title: Mystery on the Isle of Skye
Author: Phyllis Whitney
Illustrator: Ezra Jack Keats
Publication: The Westminster Press, hardcover, 1954
Genre: Juvenile Mystery
Setting: Scotland
Description: 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 * AbeBooks
Source: InterLibrary Loan. This is my fifth book for the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.


Judy Krueger said...

I have heard of Phyllis A Whitney but never have read her. The book sounds wonderful, a little like Elizabeth Goudge perhaps? Have you read her?
I think I noticed that Ezra Jack Keats passed away last week. My mother read books illustrated by him to my boys when they were little.

Lark said...

I haven't read any of Phyllis A. Whitney's books in a long time! I mostly read her adult books, but I did read a few of her children's books. Never this one, though. It sounds like fun. :)

Katrina said...

I read lots of Phyllis A. Whitney books back in the 1970s and loved them, but I didn't realise that she wrote books for children. If you do go to Skye you should try to go in the low season as it gets incredibly busy nowadays and that detracts from the experience.

Donna said...

This was my first Phyllis Whitney and I loved it. The title alone brings back vivid memories, not of the story itself, but of the pleasure I got from reading it, of the place it occupied on the library shelf, and of the elementary school library where I found it. Deja vu!

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

This reminded me so much of the Enid Blyton books I used to read as a kid! The Five Find-Outers, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven... and even the Island/ River of Adventure!

I used to devour those books. All these kids would go on fun vacations and manage to stumble onto mysteries that the adults never could solve and used to eat such marvelous picnic food. Gah, so jealous!

~Lex (

Emily said...

I have such clear memories of being utterly enchanted by that little suitcase containing the packages and letters that Cathy opens on the airplane. This is my favorite of Whitney's juvenile mysteries, too!

CLM said...

Yes, this is really a charming story and the suitcase with the packages - not only how fun it is for Cathy when she unpacks it but also the thoughtfulness of her ill grandmother packing it up for her - is quite memorable. Whitney's books aren't as sentimental as Goudge, more practical, I think, but equally appealing.

Lex, it does have some of the feel of Blyton's adventure stories, although the girls don't have to play second fiddle! And I don't think there is as much description of food, either. Those Blyton children never stop eating - I envied that as much as the adventures! I liked the Adventure series the best.

Donna, I know exactly what you mean about the place the books occupied on the shelves. If you put me in the Newton Boys and Girls Library in the dark, I am sure I could grope my way to all my best-loved books.

Judy and Lark, it is funny that when an author has written for adults and for children, readers usually prefer one or the other. I remember finding the adult Whitney titles around the corner at the adult library but they never captured me the same way some of the juvenile books did, although I enjoyed Victoria Holt and others of that ilk.

Katrina, when I get to Skye, it will be great, no matter what time of year it is or how crowded. But I don't think I will emulate any book characters by climbing a mountain!

carol said...

I've never read anything by Phyllis Whitney that I remember. This does sound charming, one I wish I had read when I was young.

Katie said...

I saw your commment about wanting to meet Elizabeth Riley. I am actually Elizabeth's great great grand niece. We are a very small family and I am one of 5 blood relatives left of her's. I love reading about how she positively impacted other's lives.