Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Cricket in Times Square

1960, 1979 Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition
George Selden
Illustrated by Garth Williams
The Cricket in Times Square
Original price $7.95, purchase price unknown
Worn hardcover with split spine

I love this book and yet I can't give it a higher grade.  The animal characters are just perfect: artistic, high-strung, honorable Chester Cricket; greedy but good-hearted, very New-Yorky Tucker Mouse; and wise, dry-humored Harry Cat.  Every illustration of them is among Williams's finest art.  Their conversations are lively and fun, even during dark times, and I still wish I could go to one of their parties, liverwurst sandwiches and all.  When Chester's music (he can imitate anything off the radio) brings New York, or at the least the part around Times Square, to a standstill, I almost cry.

But then there are the people.  Even in the Little House books, Williams tended to do better with animals than with humans, and the humans in this story are sometimes nearly grotesque, particularly the crowds.  And yet, he does sometimes bring, well, humanity to them, like the two Chinese men and cranky Mama Bellini, she when softened by Chester's Italian folk songs.  Mario is always shown to be a bright, kind boy.

The people are the stumbling block in the writing as well, specifically those two Chinese men.  They are stereotypical in the way they speak and act, like when Sai Fong says, "Clicket," and giggles like Japanese Ito in Auntie Mame.  Part of me admires Williams for showing another culture, two really, since we also learn a bit about Italian-Americans.  I just wish these were more nuanced portrayals.  On the other hand, Sai Fong is a much more developed and sympathetic character than Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi, a thoroughly unpleasant Japanese stereotype in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

As a child, I remember preferring the sequel Tucker's Countryside (1969) to Cricket, partly because it had more of a plot and partly because it had Harry being temporarily adopted.  We'll see how I feel when we get to the other end of the 1960s.

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