Monday, January 4, 2016

The Cricket in Times Square

The Cricket in Times Square
George Selden
FSG, 1960  144 pgs.
Grades 3-6
Animal Fantasy/Classic
Newbery Honor Book 1961

Revisit Selden's classic animal/fantasy that was written over fifty years ago, yet still speaks to a modern audience. After chasing a scrumptious piece of liverwurst Chester Cricket finds himself in a picnic basket on a train from his country home to New York City. He escapes the basket only to find himself immersed in the hub-bub of Time's Square's subway station. It is here that he is discovered by Mario Bellini, who is working the late shift at his parent's newspaper stand. Mario is delighted with Chester and keeps him as a pet, much to his mother's reluctance. That night, long after the newsstand has been closed down, Chester meets Tucker the mouse and Harry the cat, fellow residents of the station, and the three become instant friends. Life moves along pleasantly for Chester, especially when Mario takes him to Chinatown, where they encounter a shopkeeper who recognizes the power and luck of crickets and sells a Mario a cage for his new friend. One fateful night after a blow-out celebration the three animal pals accidentally set the newsstand on fire. Much damage is done and all seems lost for the struggling Bellini family. Chester, already a budding musician, puts his talents to work copying songs playing on the radio. His talent attracts attention and before long he becomes a New York sensation and the newsstand is successfully making money. Chester is glad to help, but he misses the country and making music for the pure pleasure of it. What's a cricket to do? Find out in this heartfelt novel that has stood the test of time.

I always choose a classic for my January book group selection and this title is one of my favorites. I re-read it every five years or so for book group and it never ceases to entertain and delight me. Maybe because it was one of my favorite books from my childhood and serves as a "comfort read", maybe because its set in New York City (my favorite book location), or maybe because I'm a music lover, but regardless of the reason The Cricket in Times Square remains one of my favorites and I enjoy it with every read. Chester is such an earnest, honest, and likable guy. Tucker Mouse provides the comic relief and serves as the lovable, yet scrappy Artful Dodger who teaches Chester the ways of city life. Harry Cat teaches the reader not to make judgments about folks until you get to know them and that best friends can come from people of which we are culturally distrustful. The book is much like an urban Charlotte's Web, which was released a decade earlier. We have a sweet naive animal who is friends with a human child and is schooled in the ways of the world by a different older and wiser animal. The animal must save the day and say goodbye to a friend in one way or another by book's end. The two books also feel connected because both are illustrated by the talented Garth Williams. Williams illustrated many of my favorite childhood books, including the Little House on the Prairie series. His drawing are not only technically precise,but are cozy and child-friendly and enhance any book that they grace. One aspect of The Cricket in Times Square that has not stood the test of time is the depiction of minorities. The Chinese people in the story, as well to a lesser degree the Bellini parents, are all stereotypes reflecting the sensibilities of our culture during this time and place. That said, I applaud Selden for including new Americans and highlighting the melting pot which remains New York City. Chester's adventures continue in several sequels, so reader's have somewhere to go upon completion of this classic children's book. After fifty years, still a standing ovation!

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