The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
(Chester Cricket and His Friends #1)
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Historical, Fiction, Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

One night, the sounds of New York City–the rumbling of subway trains, thrumming of automobile tires, hooting of horns, howling of brakes, and the babbling of voices–is interrupted by a sound that even Tucker Mouse, a jaded inhabitant of Times Square, has never heard before. Mario, the son of Mama and Papa Bellini, proprietors of the subway-station newsstand, had only heard the sound once. What was this new, strangely musical chirping? None other than the mellifluous leg-rubbing of the somewhat disoriented Chester Cricket from Connecticut. Attracted by the irresistible smell of liverwurst, Chester had foolishly jumped into the picnic basket of some unsuspecting New Yorkers on a junket to the country. Despite the insect’s worst intentions, he ends up in a pile of dirt in Times Square.

Mario is elated to find Chester. He begs his parents to let him keep the shiny insect in the newsstand, assuring his bug-fearing mother that crickets are harmless, maybe even good luck. What ensues is an altogether captivating spin on the city mouse/country mouse story, as Chester adjusts to the bustle of the big city. Despite the cricket’s comfortable matchbox bed (with Kleenex sheets); the fancy, seven-tiered pagoda cricket cage from Sai Fong’s novelty shop; tasty mulberry leaves; the jolly company of Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat; and even his new-found fame as “the most famous musician in New York City,” Chester begins to miss his peaceful life in the Connecticut countryside.

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Chester had no idea his life was about to change the day he hopped into a picnic basket. When he wakes up in a subway station in New York City, he’s understandably confused and frightened. Things could have easily gone back for a small cricket in such a big city. Fortunately, the first inhabitant of New York that Chester meets is a young boy named Mario. The meeting will change both their lives forever.

Chester is a wonderful character. He’s kind and honorable. When he makes some mistakes that could cost the Bellini family dearly, Chester doesn’t run away. He stays and faces the consequences. With the help of his friends, Tucker and Harry, he finds a way to make it up to them by utilizing a rather incredible ability! I won’t spoil the story by revealing what Chester’s special talent is, but I will say that Chester’s talent soon attracts throngs of people to the newsstand! As much as Chester enjoys life in the city helping the Bellinis, he realizes he has to be true to himself and makes a very tough decision

Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat are great friends for Chester. Tucker can be selfish and greedy at times, but he has a good heart and, with a small nudge from Harry, Tucker always does the right thing. I loved watching them help Chester acclimate to city life. Their little dinner parties are especially entertaining!

I will say the portrayal of Sai Fong, a Chinese man who helps Mario learn about caring for Chester, is a bit problematic in that his dialogue and actions are stereotypical despite his otherwise positive character traits. Mario’s Italian mother also comes across in a stereotypical way at times as well. However, I think this book is worth reading, and these characters could prompt a discussion about stereotypes with children.

I had so much fun reading this tale with my children! The ending is bittersweet and satisfying while still leaving the door open for the next story. While I recommend this novel for ages 8-12, it can easily be read to children a bit younger. I look forward to reading the next installment in the series!

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