Chester makes a third friend, too. It is a boy, Mario, who rescues Chester from a dusty corner of the subway station and brings him to live in the safety of his parents' newsstand. He hopes at first to keep Chester as a pet, but Mario soon understands that the cricket is more than that. Because Chester has a hidden talent and no onenot even Chester himselfrealizes that the little country cricket may just be able to teach even the toughest New Yorkers a thing or two.
The Cricket in Times Square is a 1961 Newbery Honor Book.
About the Author
Garth Williams illustrated all seven of the Chester Cricket books and many other distinguished works, including Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, and the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Read an Excerpt
The Cricket in Times Square
By George Selden, Garth Williams
MacmillanCopyright © 1960 George Selden
All rights reserved.
A mouse was looking at Mario.
The mouse's name was Tucker, and he was sitting in the opening of an abandoned drain pipe in the subway station at Times Square. The drain pipe was his home. Back a few feet in the wall, it opened out into a pocket that Tucker had filled with the bits of paper and shreds of cloth he collected. And when he wasn't collecting, "scrounging" as he called it, or sleeping, he liked to sit at the opening of the drain pipe and watch the world go by — at least as much of the world as hurried through the Times Square subway station.
Tucker finished the last few crumbs of a cookie he was eating — a Lorna Doone shortbread he had found earlier in the evening — and licked off his whiskers. "Such a pity," he sighed.
Every Saturday night now for almost a year he had watched Mario tending his father's newsstand. On weekdays, of course, the boy had to get to bed early, but over the weekends Papa Bellini let him take his part in helping out with the family business. Far into the night Mario waited. Papa hoped that by staying open as late as possible his newsstand might get some of the business that would otherwise have gone to the larger stands. But there wasn't much business tonight.
"The poor kid might as well go home," murmured Tucker Mouse to himself. He looked around the station.
The bustle of the day had long since subsided, and even the nighttime crowds, returning from the theaters and movies, had vanished. Now and then a person or two would come down one of the many stairs that led from the street and dart through the station. But at this hour everyone was in a hurry to get to bed. On the lower level the trains were running much less often. There would be a long stretch of silence; then the mounting roar as a string of cars approached Times Square; then a pause while it let off old passengers and took on new ones; and finally the rush of sound as it disappeared up the dark tunnel. And the hush fell again. There was an emptiness in the air. The whole station seemed to be waiting for the crowds of people it needed.
Tucker Mouse looked back at Mario. He was sitting on a three-legged stool behind the counter of the newsstand. In front of him all the magazines and newspapers were displayed as neatly as he knew how to make them. Papa Bellini had made the newsstand himself many years ago. The space inside was big enough for Mario, but Mama and Papa were cramped when they each took their turn. A shelf ran along one side, and on it were a little secondhand radio, a box of Kleenex (for Mama's hay fever), a box of kitchen matches (for lighting Papa's pipe), a cash register (for money — which there wasn't much of), and an alarm clock (for no good reason at all). The cash register had one drawer, which was always open. It had gotten stuck once, with all the money the Bellinis had in the world inside it, so Papa decided it would be safer never to shut it again. When the stand was closed for the night, the money that was left there to start off the new day was perfectly safe, because Papa had also made a big wooden cover, with a lock, that fitted over the whole thing.
Mario had been listening to the radio. He switched it off. Way down the tracks he could see the lights of the shuttle train coming toward him. On the level of the station where the newsstand was, the only tracks were the ones on which the shuttle ran. That was a short train that went back and forth from Times Square to Grand Central, taking people from the subways on the west side of New York City over to the lines on the east. Mario knew most of the conductors on the shuttle. They all liked him and came over to talk between trips.
The train screeched to a stop beside the newsstand, blowing a gust of hot air in front of it. Only nine or ten people got out. Tucker watched anxiously to see if any of them stopped to buy a paper.
"All late papers!" shouted Mario as they hurried by. "Magazines!"
No one stopped. Hardly anyone even looked at him. Mario sank back on his stool. All evening long he had sold only fifteen papers and four magazines. In the drain pipe Tucker Mouse, who had been keeping count too, sighed and scratched his ear.
Mario's friend Paul, a conductor on the shuttle, came over to the stand. "Any luck?" he asked.
"No," said Mario. "Maybe on the next train."
"There's going to be less and less until morning," said Paul.
Mario rested his chin on the palm of his hand. "I can't understand it," he said. "It's Saturday night too. Even the Sunday papers aren't going."
Paul leaned up against the newsstand. "You're up awfully late tonight," he said.
"Well, I can sleep on Sundays," said Mario. "Besides, school's out now. Mama and Papa are picking me up on the way home. They went to visit some friends. Saturday's the only chance they have."
Over a loudspeaker came a voice saying, "Next train for Grand Central, track 2."
"'Night, Mario," Paul said. He started off toward the shuttle. Then he stopped, reached in his pocket, and flipped a half dollar over the counter. Mario caught the big coin. "I'll take a Sunday Times," Paul said, and picked up the newspaper.
"Hey wait!" Mario called after him. "It's only twenty-five cents. You've got a quarter coming."
But Paul was already in the car. The door slid closed. He smiled and waved through the window. With a lurch the train moved off, its lights glimmering away through the darkness.
Tucker Mouse smiled too. He liked Paul. In fact he liked anybody who was nice to Mario. But it was late now: time to crawl back to his comfortable niche in the wall and go to sleep. Even a mouse who lives in the subway station in Times Square has to sleep sometimes. And Tucker had a big day planned for tomorrow, collecting things for his home and snapping up bits of food that fell from the lunch counters all over the station. He was just about to turn into the drain pipe when he heard a very strange sound.
Now Tucker Mouse had heard almost all the sounds that can be heard in New York City. He had heard the rumble of subway trains and the shriek their iron wheels make when they go around a corner. From above, through the iron grilles that open onto the streets, he had heard the thrumming of the rubber tires of automobiles, and the hooting of their horns, and the howling of their brakes. And he had heard the babble of voices when the station was full of human beings, and the barking of the dogs that some of them had on leashes. Birds, the pigeons of New York, and cats, and even the high purring of airplanes above the city Tucker had heard. But in all his days, and on all his journeys through the greatest city in the world, Tucker had never heard a sound quite like this one.CHAPTER 2
Mario heard the sound too. He stood up and listened intently. The noise of the shuttle rattled off into silence. From the streets above came the quiet murmur of the late traffic. There was a noise of rustling nothingness in the station. Still Mario listened, straining to catch the mysterious sound ... And there it came again.
It was like a quick stroke across the strings of a violin, or like a harp that has been plucked suddenly. If a leaf in a green forest far from New York had fallen at midnight through the darkness into a thicket, it might have sounded like that.
Mario thought he knew what it was. The summer before he had gone to visit a friend who lived on Long Island. One afternoon, as the low sun reached long yellow fingers through the tall grass, he had stopped beside a meadow to listen to just such a noise. But there had been many of them then — a chorus. Now there was only one. Faintly it came again through the subway station.
Mario slipped out of the newsstand and stood waiting. The next time he heard the sound, he went toward it. It seemed to come from one corner, next to the stairs that led up to Forty-second Street. Softly Mario went toward the spot. For several minutes there was only the whispering silence. Whatever it was that was making the sound had heard him coming and was quiet. Silently Mario waited. Then he heard it again, rising from a pile of waste papers and soot that had blown against the concrete wall.
He went down and very gently began to lift off the papers. One by one he inspected them and laid them to one side. Down near the bottom the papers became dirtier and dirtier. Mario reached the floor. He began to feel with his hands through the dust and soot. And wedged in a crack under all the refuse, he found what he'd been looking for.
It was a little insect, about an inch long and covered with dirt. It had six legs, two long antennae on its head, and what seemed to be a pair of wings folded on its back. Holding his discovery as carefully as his fingers could, Mario lifted the insect up and rested him in the palm of his hand.
"A cricket!" he exclaimed.
Keeping his cupped hand very steady, Mario walked back to the newsstand. The cricket didn't move. And he didn't make that little musical noise anymore. He just lay perfectly still — as if he were sleeping, or frightened to death.
Mario pulled out a Kleenex and laid the cricket on it. Then he took another and started to dust him off. Ever so softly he tapped the hard black shell, and the antennae, and legs, and wings. Gradually the dirt that had collected on the insect fell away. His true color was still black, but now it had a bright, glossy sheen.
When Mario had cleaned off the cricket as much as he could, he hunted around the floor of the station for a matchbox. In a minute he'd found one and knocked out one end. Then he folded a sheet of Kleenex, tucked it in the box, and put the cricket in. It made a perfect bed. The cricket seemed to like his new home. He moved around a few times and settled himself comfortably.
Mario sat for a time, just looking. He was so happy and excited that when anyone walked through the station, he forgot to shout "Newspapers!" and "Magazines!"
Then a thought occurred to him: perhaps the cricket was hungry. He rummaged through his jacket pocket and found a piece of a chocolate bar that had been left over from supper. Mario broke off one corner and held it out to the cricket on the end of his finger. Cautiously the insect lifted his head to the chocolate. He seemed to smell it a moment, then took a bit. A shiver of pleasure went over Mario as the cricket ate from his hand.
* * *
Mama and Papa Bellini came up the stairs from the lower level of the station. Mama was a short woman — a little stouter than she liked to admit — who wheezed and got a red face when she had to climb steps. Papa was tall and somewhat bent over, but he had a kindness that shone about him. There seemed always to be something smiling inside Papa. Mario was so busy feeding his cricket that he didn't see them when they came up to the newsstand.
"So?" said Mama, craning over the counter. "What now?"
"I found a cricket!" Mario exclaimed. He picked the insect up very gently between his thumb and forefinger and held him out for his parents to see.
Mama studied the little black creature carefully. "It's a bug," she pronounced finally. "Throw it away."
Mario's happiness fell in ruins. "No, Mama," he said anxiously. "It's a special kind of bug. Crickets are good luck."
"Good luck, eh?" Mama's voice had a way of sounding very dry when she didn't believe something. "Cricketers are good luck — so I suppose ants are better luck. And cockroaches are the best luck of all. Throw it away."
"Please, Mama, I want to keep him for a pet."
"No bugs are coming to my house," said Mama. "We've got enough already with the screens full of holes. He'll whistle to his friends — they'll come from all over — we'll have a houseful of cricketers."
"No we won't," said Mario in a low voice. "I'll fix the screens." But he knew it was no use arguing with Mama. When she had made up her mind, you might as well try to reason with the Eighth Avenue subway.
"How was selling tonight?" asked Papa. He was a peaceful man and always tried to head off arguments. Changing the subject was something he did very well.
"Fifteen papers and four magazines," said Mario. "And Paul just bought a Sunday Times."
"No one took a Musical America, or anything else nice?" Papa was very proud that his newsstand carried all of what he called the "quality magazines."
"No," answered Mario.
"So you spend less time playing with cricketers, you'll sell more papers," said Mama.
"Oh now now," Papa soothed her. "Mario can't help it if nobody buys."
"You can tell the temperature with crickets too," said Mario. "You count the number of chirps in a minute, divide by four, and add forty. They're very intelligent."
"Who needs a cricketer-thermometer?" said Mama. "It's coming on summer, it's New York — it's hot. And how do you know so much about cricketers? Are you one?"
"Jimmy Lebovski told me last summer," said Mario.
"Then give it to the expert Jimmy Lebovski," said Mama. "Bugs carry germs. He doesn't come in the house."
Mario looked down at his new friend in the palm of his hand. Just for once he had been really happy. The cricket seemed to know that something was wrong. He jumped onto the shelf and crept into the matchbox.
"He could keep it here in the newsstand," suggested Papa.
Mario jumped at that idea. "Yes, and then he wouldn't have to come home. I could feed him here, and leave him here, and you'd never have to see him," he said to Mama. "And when you took the stand, I'd bring him with me."
Mama paused. "Cricketer," she said scornfully. "What do we want with a cricketer?"
"What do we want with a newsstand?" said Papa. "We got it — let's keep it." There was something resigned, but nice, about Papa.
"You said I could have a dog," said Mario, "but I never got him. And I never got a cat, or a bird, or anything. I wanted this cricket for my pet."
"He's yours, then," said Papa. And when Papa spoke in a certain quiet tone — that was all there was to it. Even Mama didn't dare disagree.
She took a deep breath. "Oh well —" she sighed. And Mario knew it would be all right. Mama's saying "oh well" was her way of giving in. "But only on trial he stays. At the first sign of the cricketer friends, or if we come down with peculiar diseases — out he goes!"
"Yes, Mama, anything you say," said Mario.
"Come on, Mario," Papa said. "Help me close up."
Mario held the matchbox up to his eye. He was sure the cricket looked much happier, now that he could stay. "Good night," he said. "I'll be back in the morning."
"Talking to it yet!" said Mama. "I've got a cricketer for a son."
Papa took one side of the cover to the newsstand, Mario the other, and together they fitted it on. Papa locked it. As they were going downstairs to the trains, Mario looked back over his shoulder. He could almost feel the cricket, snugged away in his matchbox bed, in the darkness.CHAPTER 3
Tucker Mouse had been watching the Bellinis and listening to what they said. Next to scrounging, eavesdropping on human beings was what he enjoyed most. That was one of the reasons he lived in the Times Square subway station. As soon as the family disappeared, he darted out across the floor and scooted up to the newsstand. At one side the boards had separated and there was a wide space he could jump through. He'd been in a few times before — just exploring. For a moment he stood under the three-legged stool, letting his eyes get used to the darkness. Then he jumped up on it.
"Psst!" he whispered. "Hey, you up there — are you awake?"
There was no answer.
"Psst! Psst! Hey!" Tucker whispered again, louder this time.
From the shelf above came a scuffling, like little feet feeling their way to the edge. "Who is that going 'psst'?" said a voice.
"It's me," said Tucker. "Down here on the stool."
A black head, with two shiny black eyes, peered down at him. "Who are you?"
"A mouse," said Tucker. "Who are you?"
"I'm Chester Cricket," said the cricket. He had a high, musical voice. Everything he said seemed to be spoken to an unheard melody.
"My name's Tucker," said Tucker Mouse. "Can I come up?"
"I guess so," said Chester Cricket. "This isn't my house anyway."
Tucker jumped up beside the cricket and looked him all over. "A cricket," he said admiringly. "So you're a cricket. I never saw one before."
"I've seen mice before," the cricket said. "I knew quite a few back in Connecticut."
"Is that where you're from?" asked Tucker.
"Yes," said Chester. "I guess I'll never see it again," he added wistfully.
"How did you get to New York?" asked Tucker Mouse.
"It's a long story," sighed the cricket.
"Tell me," said Tucker, settling back on his haunches. He loved to hear stories. It was almost as much fun as eavesdropping — if the story was true.
"Well, it must have been two — no, three days ago," Chester Cricket began. "I was sitting on top of my stump, just enjoying the weather and thinking how nice it was that summer had started. I live inside an old tree stump, next to a willow tree, and I often go up to the roof to look around. And I'd been practicing jumping that day too. On the other side of the stump from the willow tree there's a brook that runs past, and I'd been jumping back and forth across it to get my legs in condition for the summer. I do a lot of jumping, you know."
Excerpted from The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, Garth Williams. Copyright © 1960 George Selden. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOUR: Harry Cat,
FIVE: Sunday Morning,
SIX: Sai Fong,
SEVEN: The Cricket Cage,
EIGHT: Tucker's Life's Savings,
NINE: The Chinese Dinner,
TEN: The Dinner Party,
ELEVEN: The Jinx,
TWELVE: Mr. Smedley,
FIFTEEN: Grand Central Station,
Reading Group Guide
What makes a book last for fifty years? This is one of the topics we offer for discussion with your students. You'll know the answer to that questionas far as The Cricket in Times Square is concernedby the time you've read the first chapter. This classic work of children's literature touches on universal themes of friendship, loyalty, honesty, and home; its fantasy is not tied to technology, but to imagination; the characters are as knowable today as they were when the book was first published and as they will be years from now; and the beautiful writing is timeless.
Whether you use the novel with your full class, with groups, or with individual students, we've provided this guide to offer ways of connecting to various curriculum areas and to meet language arts standards. You'll find literature, writing, reading comprehension, theater, music, art, science, and social studies activities. Most of all, you'll find a rich and lasting experience to share with your students.
This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, Educational Consultant
1. Tucker is an observer. He loves to watch the people go by as they rush about the streets of New York City. Tucker is also a listener. George Selden tells us that he "heard almost all the sounds that can be heard." How well do your students listen? Have them sit still and listen intently. Then they should make a list of all of the different sounds they heard and identify where each sound came from.
Discuss with your class ways to describe sound. Introduce them to alliteration and onomatopoeia. For each of the sounds on their lists, they should come up with words and phrases that communicate what they heard. Then they should illustrate the sounds they heard.
Here are some examples of onomatopoeia and alliteration:
Traffic: car brakes "screechhhh . . . ," horns "hhhonk . . . ," sirens "whiiine"
Weather: the wind whistles, the sun scorches, tornadoes twist
2. See page 7: "It [Chester's noise] was like a quick stroke across the strings of a violin, or like a harp that has been plucked suddenly." From the very beginning, musical imagery is very important in The Cricket in Times Square. As your students read the book, have them keep a list of the musical words and terms they come across. Include the words and terms they find on your classroom word wall.
3. See Page 13: Mario tries to impress his mother with the usefulness of the cricket by telling her that you can tell the temperature by listening to a cricket's chirp by using this formula:
(chirps/minute ÷4) + 40
Mama is not impressed and says, "Bugs carry germs. He [the cricket] doesn't come into the house."
Mama is right. Bugs can carry germs, but do all bugs carry germs? Do crickets? Your students should do research to find out the answers to these questions and to learn more about crickets.
4. Friendship, loyalty, honesty, family, respect for elders, freedom, and home are themes that can be found in The Cricket in Times Square. Have your students explore these themes in writing, interviews, and group discussions. Here are some specific ideas to get you started:
While Chester is enjoying his time in New York City, he yearns to return to his home in Connecticut. For Tucker and Harry, home is not just a drainpipe in the Time Square subway station, but all of the streets of New York City. All of us have our own concept of home. Have students conduct interviews about what home means. They can interview a relative, a teacher, a student from another class, or one of the characters from The Cricket in Times Square. They should report on their findings and compile a class list identifying the most often mentioned characteristics of what home means.
See Page 48: Freedom
Mario felt good when he bought the cricket cage for Chester, but Chester felt as if he was in jail. When Harry opened the cage for him, he jumped out proclaiming, "It's a relief to be free. There's nothing like freedom." We rarely consider how a pet or an animal in the zoo feels about confinement. Conduct a group discussion on the subject of putting animals in cages. What are the pros and what are the cons?
5.The three friends have unique characteristics. Have your students make a chart of them. The chart should include those traits that are particular to each type of animal and those traits that are out of the ordinary. An example of an unusual characteristic is that the animals can understand the humans' spoken language.
6. Many of the scenes in The Cricket in Times Square are so vivid it seems as if they are being acted out right in front of you. This makes "Readers Theater" a perfect activity for your class. Pick chapters from the book that have lots of dialogue. Try Chapter 8, "Tucker's Life Savings," or Chapter 10, "The Dinner Party." Rewrite the chapter into play form, with stage directions and character speaking parts. Different groups of students can take turns acting out the scenes. They can even make scenery. Be sure to remind them they are acting as a mouse, a cat, or a cricket, and they should adjust their voices and mannerisms accordingly.
7. As your students read The Cricket in Times Square they will notice that life in America was quite different fifty years ago. For example, Mario is allowed to ride the New York City subway all by himself. Can your students imagine that their parents would permit them to do that? Have your students find other examples of how things are different now. Why are they different? Are kids less responsible now? Is it more dangerous now? Do people have different values? What about technology: How has it made the world safer or more dangerous?
8. Chester's musical repertoire includes operatic arias, concertos, popular music, hymns, marches, and folk music. The Bellinis enjoy it all. Use the music scenes to introduce the music that is mentioned in The Cricket in Times Square to your students. Play some of it in the classroom. Have the children close their eyes,the way Papa Bellini does, while they listen. What do your students imagine while listening? They can respond to the music by drawing, painting, or writing. If you do not have musical recordings, check what's available online.
9. Tucker tells Harry and Chester, "New York is a place where the people are willing to pay for talent." As Chester's manager, it is Tucker's job to promote Chester's performances. What better way to do this than with billboard advertising right in Times Square subway station? Have your students design posters for Chester's next recital at the Bellini's newsstand.
10. The Cricket in Times Square Quiz Show is a great way to test your students' knowledge of the book and have fun at the same time. We have provided sixteen questions to start, arranged in order of difficulty. You can change the order, edit the questions, or add your own questions to suit your students' needs. Answers to the questions are included, but use your judgment to decide whether a question is answered correctly. We suggest giving the students thirty seconds to write down their answers, but you might want to tailor the timing.
You'll need a supply of 4 x 6 index cards for each student and a timer. Have them stand at their desks ready to write their answers on the cards. Read a question and give the students the allotted time to write down an answer. When time is called, the children hold up their cards with theirs responses. Check the cards. Children with correct answers remain standing. Children with incorrect answers sit down and are out of the quiz. (Be sure to collect unused cards for further use.) Continue with the quiz until there is only one student standing. He/she is the winner.
Quiz Show questions:
1. In what New York City subway station does Tucker live?
2. How did Chester end up in New York City?
3. Why didn't Mama Bellini want Mario to keep a cricket as a pet?
4. In what country were Mario's parents born?
5. Why didn't Chester want to blame the missing two-dollar bill on the janitor or a stranger?
6. What is Chester's special talent?
7. What kind of leaf is Chester fond of eating?
8. How did the fire in the newsstand start?
A. Mario was playing with matches.
B. Harry lit a fire to keep warm.
C. Tucker knocked over a box of matches.
9. In what season does the novel take place?
10. Why did Mama Bellini insist that Mario work to pay back the missing two dollars?
A. He's the one who spent the money.
B. His pet ate the money.
C. He's the one who lost the money.
11. Where did Mario go to buy a cricket cage?
12. How did Tucker come to Mario's rescue?
13. What magazine did Mr. Smedley buy at the newsstand every month?
14. Who put out the fire in the newsstand? How did he know there was a fire?
15. What kind of music does Papa Bellini like to listen to?
16. What song is Mama's Bellini's favorite?
1. Times Square subway station
2. He was trapped in a picnic basket that ended up on a train to Grand Central
3. She thought bugs carry germs.
5. Chester was honest and felt he should take responsibility.
6. Chester can chirp beautiful music.
7. Mulberry leaves
9. C. Tucker knocked over a box of matches.
10. B. His pet ate the money.
12. Tucker used his life savings to help pay back the missing money.
13. Musical America
14. Paul the conductor. He smelled smoke and heard the alarm that Chester made.
15. Italian opera
16. "Come Back to Sorrento"
11. In 1960, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury and Hawaii by James A. Michener were the top-selling books; Psycho and Spartacus were box-office favorites; westerns ruled the television airways with Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and Have GunWill Travel; The Flintstones premiered on television; the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown" was playing on the radio; Elvis was discharged from the Army; JFK was elected President of the United States; and The Cricket in Times Square was published. Fifty years later, The Cricket in Times Square is still a favorite with young readers. What makes this book a classic? Many of your students' parents have read this book when they were children. Have your students talk about it with their parents. Then open up a class discussion about why they think this book has such lasting powers.