The Cricket in Times Square

Pam’s Pictorama: I’m on a bit of a tangent today. In a previous post, Push Kitty, I mentioned my affection for the illustrator Garth Williams. For me The Cricket in Times Square, illustrated by Williams and written George Selden is a nearly perfect children’s early reader chapter book. As a committed New Yorker, I love the view of a somewhat period yet timeless New York, as seen from the ground up, in Grand Central station. Much like Charlotte’s Web it is a story that pairs unusual animal friends. There is the glorious, fluffy fat cat, Harry – he exudes purrs and tummy rubbing – and of course his wily friend Tucker the rat. (E.B. White did something entirely different with his story of a pig and a spider who become friends – and take on the subject of mortality of all things – whereas this story is about being far from home, and how even a cricket can make his way in the big city with a bit of talent, pluck and good friends.)

Williams Cat and Rat

Garth Williams, (b. 1912-d. 1996) illustrated piles of children’s books – many of which became classics including Stuart Little and the Little House books. He wrote several as well, but it is the clutch that I have mentioned here that form an archetype in my mind. His illustrations are so synonymous with these books that, at least for me, his style is just what I think of when I think of children’s books and my earliest book experiences. (On his wikipedia page you can read about a book he wrote and illustrated, The Rabbits Wedding, which sparked controversy in the South because one of the rabbits in question was black…)

For those of you who don’t know the story of The Cricket in Times Square quite simply the Cricket, Chester, has found himself in Grand Central station, quite out of his element and country origins. He is adopted by the rat and cat duo, and a small boy whose father owns a newsstand, and who takes him as a pet – even supplying him with a cricket cage home acquired in Chinatown! Chester repays the kindness by providing cricket concerts in the train station, which makes all activity cease briefly and ultimately makes the newsstand wildly popular. Of course, eventually Chester, homesick, has to find his way back to the country, where I guess crickets belong.

Williams Cricket

I don’t remember my first reading of this. I believe I read it myself, rather than having it read to me, as was Charlotte’s Web. by my third grade teacher. But the story and the illustrations – ones that made not only a kitty, but a rat and a cricket lovable, stayed with me forever. The book is still in print, but sadly only in paperback – luckily I believe that version does contain all the illustrations. (I was able to acquire a hardcover copy in excellent condition a few years ago on Amazon or eBay.) It is my favorite book to buy for the children of my friends – for those who have left the New York area I consider it my subversive move to convince their children that New York City is the only place to live – a world of wonders! Maybe you will consider it for a juicy little reading project as we head into fall this year. Let me know how you like it!

Push Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was a book I took out of the library only once as a child, but never forgot. My memory of the copy I saw did not have the slip jacket cover, nor an illustrated cover at all. Somehow I stumbled on it, undoubtably the title, and dragged it home with me. The illustrations were magnificent and those are what I remembered.

If we fast forward to years later, Kim and I were comparing notes on the illustrator Garth Williams. We both love his illustrations – for me A Cricket in Times Square topped even Charlotte’s Web for memorable illustrations cherished from childhood. This book, Push Kitty, nagged at the back of my mind although I do not believe I remember that the illustrations were by Garth Williams, only that they were in that style and had been great. By then the miracle of the internet was well upon us. Sure enough, between eBay and a used book site (one later absorbed whole by Amazon) I had a few copies to choose from. To my joy, I quickly became the owner of this deaccessioned library copy. Kim’s recent Facebook posts about Gustaf Tanggren and a book he remembered fondly (but like me, never owned) called Cowboys and Indians made me think about pulling this one out. There is a lot to be said about Garth Williams that I will save for a future post, but it should be noted that Push Kitty was originally published in 1968 which means it was only a few years old when I would have seen it, probably in the early seventies.

When I read it again I realized why I had loved it so much as a child! In addition to the illustrations, the story, written by Jan Wahl, is about a little girl who dresses up her kitty (much to his obvious displeasure) and drives him around town, showing him off in a baby carriage. Since I too liked to try to dress my wriggling cat Snoopy (who was very dignified; in retrospect it must have really, deeply displeased him) in doll clothes and try to persuade him to stay in a small, tin baby carriage, I clearly identified with the story.

Kitty starts out all fluff and sweet adorableness, Kitty White is his name, and gets more and more annoyed as he is taken about and shown off. He returns to a fluff ball cuteness as he races away once the doll clothes have been removed at the end. Williams does a splendid job of drawing a cat frowning and in all his moods!

Presented below is a sampling of illustrations from the book.

Push Kitty 1   Push Kitty 2

Push Kitty 3   Push Kitty 4