Dell, 1960 (new edition: Square Fish, 2008)
144 pages, $6.99
Newbery Honor Book
This is a book I don't hear much about anymore, which is an incredible shame. This Newbery Honor title is one of my very favorite books from when I was a kid, though it could be read at any age. It's a timeless classic.
On the face of it, it doesn't seem like much. You've got Mario, a young boy in New York whose family owns a newsstand in Times Square. His father is an opera lover. The family doesn't have much money because they, well, own a newsstand.
Then you've got Chester, a cricket who travels inadvertently by train from the meadows of Connecticut to the Times Square subway station. He's befriended by two other animals, Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse (They are, fortunately, friends. It doesn't always work out that way between cats and mice.)
While Harry and Tucker work on a plan to get Chester back to his home in Connecticut, Chester gets to know Mario. And Mario, who lives in the greatest city in the world, finds that his world expands when a cricket who sings opera changes his life.
George Selden writes with such authority that it doesn't occur to the reader to guffaw at the friendship between an opera-singing cricket and a young Italian-American boy. Or that of a liverwurst-hoarding mouse and a tabby tomcat. The story is simple and moving, and illustrated as only Garth Williams could have done.
Reading the story made me laugh and cry. It also made me wonder what made New York City so compelling, so wonderful, so writeable.
Twelve years after reading the book, I moved there and found out.
I passed through Times Square every day. Even on weekends, when I didn't have to. I bought papers from many a newsstand. And I always kept my ears cocked for a single, beautiful cricket's note.
You will too.
On the first Thursday of every month, I recommend some marvelous middle-grade reading. Sometimes it's a new book, sometimes an old book. For more reviews, search for the tag Book Review.