The Cricket in Times Square

by George Selden (1960)

A Sweet Spot selection. 

An oldie but goodie.  The Cricket in Times Square won the Newbery Award way back in 1964.  It tells a story in prose and tone very similar to another classic of that era, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.  It presents animal friends, interacting with a human family, in an unlikley setting – the Times Square subway station in NYC – and it brings young readers on a wholesome journey about friendship and resourcefulness.

The Cricket in Times Square boasts three different animal protagonists – a mouse and a cat who are scrounging partners and live in Grand Central Station, and the cricket from Connecticut who arrives to enliven their lives. There’s also the boy, Mario – and his family – who run a newsstand in the Times Square subway station, and who befriend and care for the cricket in his new, foreign environment.

Beside its charming characters, The Cricket in Times Square has little that is threatening or scary or unsettling for younger children. Mario and Chester Cricket have some challenges to solve, but they do so with fortitude and panache.  The story is full of little ethnic details – Mario’s family is Italian; he acquires a special cage for the cricket in Chinatown – but what really makes it soar is the way music is weaved into the plot.  For Chester Cricket learns to play music and to sound like a violin – all manner of music he picks up from various sources in the subway station.

Like The Trumpet of the Swan, the music in The Cricket in Times Square takes the reader to strange and unexpected places. 

[One successful OSOB school in Ohio actually brought the opera company in to show students what one of those soaring songs actually sounds like.]

As Chester and Mario ponder their little challenges, they receive eclectic nuggets of wisdom offered by a Chinatown shopkeeper and a New York Times music critic.  More than anything, the resourceful friendship of four unlikely friends is affirmed and celebrated.

All of which explains why The Cricket in Times Square has been charming readers for decades – and why we consider it a timeless classic.