© Estate of George Selden.
Each year over the holiday break I pull out an old favorite from my childhood to reread, and I chose this one recently. It’s a charming story of animals that act human in some respects, but keep their own natures in others. The story happens mostly in the subway under Times Square in New York City, a place I knew a little as a child from visits to the city, and the human cast are an Italian family: father, mother, and son Mario, who run a newsstand there, also a favorite thing for me then, as I was always on the lookout for comics. One night Mario hears an odd sound coming from a pile of trash, and discovers a cricket that has somehow found his way there. Mario wants to make a pet of the friendly insect, and though his mother objects, finally gets her permission, as long as he keeps the cricket at the newsstand. That night the shuttered stand has two more visitors, a mouse named Tucker and a cat called Harry. They befriend the insect, and the three share their stories. Chester Cricket comes from a rural field in Connecticut, and was accidentally abducted and brought to the city on a train with a family of weekend picnickers.
As the story develops, Chester and his friends create a lot of trouble for Mario, including almost burning down the newsstand, but Mario makes new friends with him as well, including an elderly Chinese man who offers the cricket cage seen above as a home for the boy’s pet. What saves Chester from eviction is a talent he has for mimicking any music he hears exactly. After hearing songs and opera music on the radio, he can play it perfectly, or as perfectly as his tiny legs can manage. The musical cricket becomes a seven-day wonder when a music critic begins to write about him in his newspaper, and soon the cricket’s musical performances are gathering large crowds.
I hadn’t read this book for a long time, and I found it holds up well, though the storyline is not hard to predict. Selden’s writing is warm and his characters appealing. A satisfying trip down memory lane for me, and recommended for kids of all ages.