The Cricket in Times Square: 01/31/16
The five star rating for The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden is out of nostalgia. In that I can still remember the warm fuzzy feeling the book gave me when I first read it all these years later.
When I was entering 4th grade I did so out of the mercy of my teachers and with the promise on my part that I would shape up. I was one of those kids who had tested in first grade as gifted (borderline genius) and that meant I was pulled from track of friends into a different one, meaning we could only see each other during recess and after school. As you can imagine, the whole gifted thing, didn't go over so well. Sure, it's nice to be considered smart and all, but now I was stuck in a class I didn't want to be in.
The other problem I had was reading. I could read The Hobbit from cover to cover in kindergarten but was given the same set of whole readers that all the other kids were. "See Spot run. Run Spot, run." The teacher would read them out loud to us and then ask us to read them back to her. They were so simplistic that I had them memorized after one reading. Meaning, that for books that had words in them that I didn't honestly know how to read, I didn't actually learn how to read them.
By the end of third grade, a bad attitude towards my new classmates, and coasting on my ability to memorize, had taken me as far as it possibly could. I was given the month between third and fourth grade (I attended a year round school) to do a packet of homework given to me by my teacher (who would be my teacher the next grade too).
I spent the month of July reading and writing books reports. Every book I read I turned into a book report. Of course now I run a book blog as a hobby but this was my first time truly tracking my reading and truly trying to read since kindergarten.
One of the books I loved during this marathon of reading was The Cricket in Times Square. The illustrations were by Garth Williams whose artwork I enjoyed from the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (a series my mother had read me).
Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat have a happy life in the Times Square subway station in Manhattan. They live near the newsstand run by Mario and his parents. The newsstand is failing and Tucker and Harry want to help. In the midst of this, Mario finds a cricket who has accidentally ridden the trains in from Connecticut.
Mario believes Chester is a sign of good luck. His mother sees him as yet more vermin here to ruin the newsstand. Tucker and Harry, eager, to help Mario and cheer up Chester, end up creating more trouble for the family.
For the most part, The Cricket in Times Square remains delightful. But it's not as perfect as I recall it being. Mario while looking for help in caring for his cricket, meets Mr. Fong. He is Chinese and lives and works in Chinatown. But his accent is more Japanese (when rendered as "Engrish") than Chinese. There are other odd inconsistencies that aren't adequately explained, leaving me to belief that Selden was working off of a muddled set of stereotypes, than actually bothering to build a proper character for Mr. Fong. It's frustrating both because it's racist and because Fong is the one positive adult role model in Mario's life at the time (as his parents are too busy and stressed about the newsstand).
Were I reading The Cricket in Times Square for the first time, I would probably only give it three stars.
Comment #1: Monday, February 01, 2016 at 17:51:11
I keep meaning to pick this one up. It's one of the few books from my youth that survived on my bookshelves until adulthood...but for the life of me I can't remember the story/characters/etc from my childhood reading. I've tried recommending it to my kids and so far they haven't been willing to pick it up. Thanks to your nostalgic review, I might have to pick it up again and see why it is I decided to carefully hold onto it for so many years. :)
Comment #2: Monday, February 01, 2016 at 15:25:57
I've been trying to re-read old favorites to refresh my memory and to see if they stand the test of time. Reading tastes do grow and change. I'm happy you enjoyed my post.