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!

The Apprentice by Pilar Molina Llorente

The Apprentice by Pilar Molina Llorente
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Historical, Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Fiction
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

In Renaissance Florence, thirteen-year-old apprentice Arduino’s dreams of being a painter are challenged after he discovers the extreme measures the Maestro Cosimo di Forlç will take in the name of jealousy. Arduino faces a decision that could cost him his only chance to realize his life’s dream.

Arduino’s dream is finally within reach.
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Arduino comes from a family of very successful tailors. While Arduino’s father and brothers enjoy their work, Arduino dreams of taking a different path. He dreams of becoming a painter. Arduino comes from a happy home, and I love seeing healthy families represented in children and young adult books. Consequently, Arduino isn’t pursuing a dream of becoming an artist as a way to escape from home. He’s doing it because it is his passion. Despite his reluctance to disappoint his father, Arduino’s restlessness radiates off the pages. Arduino knows that becoming a painter will not be easy, but his heart is set on it. Even though his father disapproves, he arranges an apprenticeship for Arduino with Cosimo di Forli. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship is nothing like Arduino imagined.

I felt so sorry for Arduino. Cosimo is always in a foul mood and doesn’t teach Arduino anything. Instead, Arduino’s time is consumed with doing menial tasks and chores. As if that weren’t bad enough, the food is terrible, and there isn’t even room for Arduino in the bedroom with the other apprentices. I admire Arduino for putting up with it all. He has a good heart and is truly dedicated to his dream of becoming a painter. Everything changes when Arduino discovers Cosimo has a terrible secret. Arduino has a tough decision to make. Will he reveal what Cosimo has done even if it means the end of his apprenticeship, or can he find a way to do what is right and hold on to his dream?

The Apprentice is an intriguing and fast paced story. As I read with my children, they were so wrapped up in Arduino’s story that at the end of each chapter they would beg me to read more! In addition to being an engaging story, Ms. Llorente provides historical information concerning life and social customs during the Renaissance, life as an apprentice, and even a bit on the differences in the situations of men and women. All of this information is smoothly incorporated into the story so it doesn’t feel forced or slow the pacing of the story.

I enjoyed reading The Apprentice. Arduino’s story is captivating, and the ending is absolutely wonderful! Fans of children’s historical fiction would do well to give this story a try.