Author and Illustrator: Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)
Publication: Graymalkin, paperback, originally published in 1967
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Setting: Presumably ConnecticutDescription: Philip, Ellen, and five-year-old Jeb Finley are delighted to make the move so beloved in fiction from the city to a rambling and mysterious old house in the country. They enjoy exploring the pastures, streams, and the nearby village of Heatherfield. Most of all, they like the special playroom their parents fix up for them in a wing of the house that has no electricity. Their parents warn they won’t be able to use the room after dark because oil lamps are too dangerous. Among the furnishings is a worn red velvet armchair and, as darkness falls one evening, a glow on the chair turns into a cat! With a little coaxing, the cat reveals her name is Opalina and she is a ghost that has lived in the house for 200 years, although she only appears after dusk. The children ask her to tell them the story of her nine lives, and each chapter chronicles Opalina’s experience with a different family but in the same house from 1750 to the present.
My Impression: I remember finding this book for the first time in the Brighton branch of the Boston Public Library at 10 or 11 but thought it was long out of print until I came across a paperback last Saturday. Bacon was from an affluent family that lived in Connecticut and NYC as well as traveling internationally. After graduating from high school, she trained as a painter but eventually became more interested in drawings and caricatures. The drawings in Opalina are black and white line drawings. In total, she illustrated more than 60 books, 19 of which she also wrote, including a mystery nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award, The Inward Eye. She also illustrated a book called Mount Allegro, a memoir beloved by Romie, my brother-in-law's mother. Bacon really seems to have liked cats!
“Nine lives!” said Ellen. “You’ve had nine lives?”Opalina’s stories are quirky and humorous, reminding me a little of The Sherwood Ring, a big favorite. The book is also the story of a house, which originally belongs to the Trumbull family (a famous Connecticut name with a town named after Jonathan Trumbull, a Revolutionary-era governor of the state, although there is no connection). Opalina’s stories include hidden treasure, impersonation, a duel, children dressed up as beggars à la Betsy-Tacy, spoiled cousins, a mysterious hermit, and more. Those who like stories where a family moves to a new place will enjoy this, although the only magic is the ghostly cat and the way she continues to influence life around her during her nine lives.Source: Library
“One real and eight unreal,” the ghost replied.
“One real – you mean before you became a ghost?” Phillip asked.
“Oh, won’t you tell us?” Ellen pleaded. “I mean, Your Royal Highness, we beg on bended knees.”
Phil added, “Your Majesty, if you will be so gracious as to recount the story of your life – I mean your lives – we will be forever your grateful slaves.”
Opalina was purring.
“That is the way I like to hear you talk. Your courtesy shall not go unrewarded. I will regale you with a tale or two.”
Illustration copyright to Graymalkin Media