George Selden's The Cricket in Times Square
Children's literature review by Carla Marie Boulianne
Ages 9 to 12; first grade and up as a read aloud book
"Mario listened, straining to catch the mysterious sound…like a quick stroke across the strings of a violin…a harp that had been plucked suddenly. If a leaf in a green forest far from New York had fallen at midnight though the darkness into a thicket, it might have sounded like that."
Chester and Tucker - Country Cricket and City Mouse
So begins our introduction to Chester Cricket in this classic tale filled with familiar experiences of humankind's collective exodus from countryside to metropolis - told from the perspective of a cricket that hitches a ride in a picnic basket from rural Connecticut to the heart of Manhattan.
We sense Chester Cricket's uncomfortable awe at the "colors and noises breaking in great waves…The sight was too terrible and beautiful." Luckily, Chester Cricket has the streetwise guides of Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, along with the tender care of a little boy named Mario, to ease his startling transition to city life.
Children empathize with Chester Cricket's confusion in an unfamiliar environment, not unlike their own daily struggle to make sense of an ever-expanding world. Kids listen hopefully as Mario pleads to keep his unusual pet, an unexpected confidante that to Mama is just a bug distracting the boy from his duties at the family newsstand.
The Cricket in Times Square - Read Aloud Book Appeals to Young and Old
Children are attracted to the highly nuanced animal personalities and their exquisitely detailed lives. Kids feel his pain as Tucker Mouse parts with hard earned money - a lifetime savings of coins and dollars amounting to no more than $2.93.
Illustrator Garth Williams conveys a sense of cluttered coziness in his line drawn depictions of the newsstand, subway, and Sai Fong's shop.
Mario's independence may be unfamiliar to modern children leading historically sheltered lives. Today's kids are fascinated by the idea of a boy their age working alone at night in the Times Square's subway station, pitching magazines and papers to passersby.
Mario and Chester Cricket's loving relationship is depicted though the search for life's essentials - a home and food. From the perfect bed made from a carefully tucked napkin in a matchbox to the splendid red and green cricket cage with a golden spire from Sai Fong's Chinese Novelties, Mario makes Chester Cricket feel like more than a pet or good luck charm.
Although Chester finds the well-intended gift too stifling, Tucker Mouse feels "like the Emperor of China" when Chester allows him to sleep in the cage blanketed by dollar bills.
We share in Chester Cricket's rise to unexpected success and cheer when this saves the struggling newsstand, the financial lifeline for the family of the little boy who loves him.
Children and adults also relate to Chester Cricket's eventual yearning for a more peaceful life at home. For parents this may symbolize a wistful longing for the seemingly simple life of childhood, for their kids it reflects the comfort of home after a day navigating steadily increasing expectations in school and society.
Parents appreciate repeated references to the value of fine arts, multicultural depictions of Sai Fong and Mario's hardworking immigrant family, and opportunities to expand their child's vocabulary with this wonderful read aloud book.
A Cricket in Times Square is a standout in children's literature and deserves a highly coveted spot on every child's bookshelf. Review continues.
Newbery Honor Winner - A Distinguished Contribution to Classic Children's Literature
New York children's literature author and former Fulbright recipient George Selden Thompson (pen name George Selden) published The Cricket in Times Square in 1960. The book was runner-up for the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1961; the winner that year was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. Chuck Jones, of Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes fame, directed the 1973 animated film version.
Characters from the The Cricket in Times Square appear in six other adventures, including Harry Cat's Pet Puppy and Tucker's Countryside. Selden said his inspiration was a cricket's song in the subway station as he journeyed home one evening. He also published the adult title The Story of Harold under the pseudonym Terry Andrews.
Author: Selden, George
Illustrator: Garth Williams
Title: The Cricket in Times Square
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