The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

  • Title: The Cricket in Times Square
  • Author: George Selden
  • Illustrator: Garth Williams
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Year Published: 1960
  • ISBN: 0374316503
  • List Price: $17.99
  • Page Count: 144
  • Age Range: 8-12 yrs
  • Genre: fiction; animal fantasy
  • Award(s): Newbery Honor;
    American Library Association Notable Children’s Books; Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List

Author information: A short biography of George Selden can be found on the Macmillan website. Selden was the author of fifteen books and two plays, many of which continued to follow the adventures of Chester, Tucker, and their friends. A Cricket in Times Square was also made into an animated movie. Selden died in 1989.

Reviews: School Library Journal gave this book a starred review, and The Horn Book also gave it a positive review. Both reviews mention the whimsy and fun of the novel. Excerpts from both of these can be found on the Macmillan website. Unfortunately, due to the age of the title, it was difficult to find other reviews from the time period during which the book was released, but a recent blog post from SLJ included it on a list of the top 100 children’s novels.

Readers annotation: A little creature can make a big difference, even if he’s just a small cricket in New York City.

Summary: Chester Cricket has lived his entire life in the country, until he accidentally ends up on a bus that brings him into the heart of New York City. In Times Square, Chester meets Tucker, a mouse, and Harry, a cat, who help him adjust to life in the big city. Chester is taken in by a human boy, Mario, who feeds him and gets him a cage to live in. Mario’s family is poor and runs an unsuccessful newsstand in the subway station. In an attempt to repay Mario’s kindness, Chester begins to give concerts in the subway station, drawing huge audiences and making the family newsstand a financial success. Although he loves his new friends and has enjoyed his time in New York, Chester decides to return back to the country where he belongs.

Evaluation: Overall, this is a charming book with a few major problems for contemporary audiences. The characters are well-developed and sympathetic and the setting of Times Square provides a colorful backdrop for the antics of the characters. The illustrations by Garth Williams complement the storytelling effectively and make the story come to life while still allowing readers to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. The main concern with this book is in regard to the portrayal of Chinese characters. Both Sai Fong and his friend speak in a stereotypical dialect that transposes all of their “r”s into “l”s, among other things. There are also several uncomfortable mentions about Chinese food and customs that have not aged well and make the book appear more racist than the author probably intended. Both Chinese characters are kind and helpful to Mario, signalling that the author likely had good intentions when writing the book, but the racism cannot be ignored.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 3/5  While the plot and themes of friendship are still relevant to today’s readers, the dialect of the Chinese characters and racist undertones cannot be ignored, and make this an unsettling and often uncomfortable read.
  • Popularity4/5  In spite of its problematic portions, readers will enjoy the sticky situations Chester and his friends get into as well as the way Selden combines the human world with the animal world.  The characters all have unique personalities and Selden describes them in such detail that it becomes easy to develop a picture of them in your mind. Some readers may not like Chester’s decision to leave the city at the end of the novel, but assurances that there are sequels may mitigate this point.
  • Appeal factors: Anthropomorphic animals, New York City setting, themes of friendship, colorful characters.

Read-alikes: 

  1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary could be a good suggestion for readers who enjoyed Selden’s anthropomorphic animals and themes of friendship. Those who liked the relationship between Chester and Mario will feel similarly about Ralph and Keith.
  2. For readers who liked the idea of a hidden side of New York City, The Borrowers by Mary Norton may be a good fit. The Clock family are tiny people who live in the floors of an English manor, and their lifestyle and relationship with the larger world of humans will remind readers of Chester and his friends.

Book talk ideas: Start by asking if anybody has been to New York and giving some perspective on the size of New York and Times Square vs. the size of a cricket. Talk about some of the adventures and mishaps Chester has, such as eating the $2 bill or nearly setting the newsstand on fire. Maybe also play some audio clips of crickets and have readers share their thoughts.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  • Do you think Tucker is a good friend? What are some of his good qualities? His bad qualities?
  • Would you trade being famous for being happy?
  • Do you think that the characters are happier at the end of the book than they were in the beginning?

Reason for reading: My roommate is a fourth and fifth grade teacher and she read this book aloud to her students during the fall because they were doing a unit about crickets. When I saw this title on the Newbery list, I decided to read this for the project because I know firsthand that it’s still being used in classrooms and is still getting a positive response from children.

Additional relevant information: When my roommate read this book aloud, she modified the language of the Chinese characters so that they no longer spoke in the racist dialect that appears in the book. Without modification, this could be a problematic novel to share with children, and it may be hard to recommend to readers without first explaining to them or their parents about the dated depiction of Chinese characters.

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