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Literature / The Cricket in Times Square

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"Talent is something rare and beautiful and precious, and it must not be allowed to go to waste."
Tucker Mouse

The Cricket in Times Square is a 1960 Newbery Honor-winning children's novel by George Selden (with illustrations by Garth Williams) and start of a seven-book series called Chester Cricket and His Friends. It was adapted into an animated short film in 1973, directed by Chuck Jones and starring Mel Blanc as Tucker and Les Tremayne as Chester and Harry. Jones also directed two original sequels — "Yankee Doodle Cricket" and "A Very Merry Cricket".

Chester is a common black cricket living in a stump in a meadow in suburban Connecticut, spending his days foraging, chirping, and communing with the nature he loves. But one day he encounters a family out on a picnic, and his fondness for liverwurst gets him more than he bargained for. He falls asleep inside the picnic basket and is transported miles from his home, eventually jostled out and into the dust and unfamiliar noise of the Times Square Subway Station.

He soon befriends an eccentric cast of characters who help him acclimate to city life, including Mario Bellini, a young boy struggling to keep his family newsstand afloat; Tucker, a brash and streetwise city mouse; Harry, a laid-back tomcat and Tucker's roommate in a drainpipe in the subway station; Sai Fong, a Chinese storerunner; and Mr. Smedley, a music teacher and friend of Mario's parents who recognizes Chester's talent for chirping and encourages him to pursue it to unimagined heights . . .

The Sequels:

  • Tucker's Countryside: Tucker and Harry travel to Connecticut and concoct a Zany Scheme to save Chester's meadow-home from being turned into a housing development.
  • Harry Cat's Pet Puppy: Harry brings a tiny stray puppy into the drainpipe, and he and Tucker spend the book trying to find a suitable permanent home for the rapidly-growing "Huppy."
  • Chester Cricket's Pigeon Ride: An interquel where, during his visit to New York, Chester takes an exhilarating nighttime ride on Lulu the Pigeon over the city; more of a picture book than the rest of the series.
  • Chester Cricket's New Home: Chester's stump is destroyed, and he searches the meadow for a new home, dealing with the area's various eccentric inhabitants in the process.
  • Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse: A prequel showing how the duo met, became friends and found their drainpipe home.
  • The Old Meadow: Chester and his friends try to help a homeless man and his dog who are living illegally in a corner of the meadow.

Tropes appearing in the original novel:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Mr. Smedley has a tendency to ramble.
  • An Aesop: Doing what makes you happy is more important than acquiring fame for fame's sake.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Mostly averted with Sai Fong, the Chinese store owner who befriends Mario and sells him the cricket cage, though he does have a thick accent (as heard in the audiobook) and frequently omits articles.
  • Beatnik: Harry Cat appears to be one, especially with the tone his dialogue takes in the audiobook.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Tucker loves complaining about his allegedly overwhelming workload as Chester's manager.
  • Big Applesauce: Spoiler: it's set in NYC.
  • Big Eater: Both Chester and Tucker qualify.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Chester burns out on New York and returns to his home in Connecticut, leaving the friends he has made behind. But he is stronger and wiser for the experience, and it is suggested Tucker and Harry will visit him from time to time. (And as noted, they do so in the first sequel.)
  • Bizarre Instrument: Chester learns to play human music flawlessly with his cricket wings.
  • A Boy and His X: Chester enters Mario's life unexpectedly and quite by accident; the two form a meaningful friendship that improves both their lives.
  • Cat Concerto: Harry delivers one, though he's not on a fence at the time. Also, unlike Chester, no one's going to turn him into a celebrity for it.
  • Chinese Launderer: The sign outside Sai Fong's store notes that he "also do hand laundry."
  • City Mouse: Tucker is one literally, though he doesn't go to the country until Tucker's Countryside.
  • The City vs. the Country: We see through Chester's eyes as he is transported (unwittingly) from his rural(ish) home into the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. Many passages (such as Chester eating a dollar bill mistaken for a leaf) serve to contrast the two settings. Chester grows to appreciate the city for what it is, but ultimately decides to return to his home.
  • Country Mouse: Chester in a nutshell. After living most of his life in Connecticut, he's alternately dazzled and overwhelmed by the wonders and terrors of New york City.
  • Currency Cuisine: The cricket eats a paper note because he's very hungry due to not being fed.
  • Foil: Streetwise businessman Tucker to Ingenue Chester, laid-back Harry to type-A Tucker.
  • The Fool: Chester can be a bit of a ditz, but his dumb luck and The Power of Friendship always pull him through tough spots.
  • Freudian Trio: Tucker is the Id, Harry is the Superego, and Chester is the Ego.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Averted by Mama Bellini, whose reaction to finding Tucker in the newsstand is more along the lines of You Dirty Rat!.
  • Evil Matriarch: Subverted. Mama Bellini wants nothing to do with Chester, calling him a jinx and insisting that Mario throw him out (she even hits Tucker with a magazine), but after the newsstand fire she overhears Chester playing her favorite song . . . and it melts her.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Crickets are naturally omnivorous, but Chester takes it to extremes, at one point consuming half a two dollar bill that he somnabulously mistakes for a leaf and shows no ill effects.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: The nervous and uptight Mama Bellini versus the laid-back Papa Bellini.
  • Good Luck Charm:
    • The bell Sai Fong hangs in Chester's cricket cage. Eventually Mario is forced to keep it in the cash register to keep it from being stolen by souvenir hunters.
    • Chester himself becomes one to the Bellinis.
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Inverted. Chester loves playing music for people who appreciate it, but the fame it brings him makes him depressed and anxious.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mama Bellini is the antagonist for a while, constantly threatening to throw Chester out, but once she realizes how musically adept he is, she becomes "the best friend a cricket ever had" and eventually comes to see him as a member of the family.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Well, platonic at any rate. Tucker and Harry share their drainpipe flat and seem to spend most of their time together.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Chester comes to despise the fame his playing earns him, eventually abandoning it and returning to his life in Connecticut.
  • Intellectual Animal: Harry Cat enjoys chamber music and reading periodicals. Tucker fancies himself a master economist. Chester is a musical prodigy.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Chester Cricket with Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, and also with the human Bellinis and Mr. Smedley, though they are unaware of his sentience.
  • The Jinx: Mama Bellini denounces Chester as one after the fire in the newsstand, and Chester comes to believe it himself for a short time.
  • Lit Fic: For a children's novel, it's a surprisingly literary work, full of Shout Outs and introspection.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Mario is shocked to hear Mama Bellini singing and speaking Italian, something she only does when she's in an exceptionally good mood.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Until Chester's musical talent comes along, the Bellinis are always struggling financially.
  • Predator-Prey Friendship: Chester is terrified when Harry first shows up, assuming the cat will attack its normal prey, Tucker Mouse—but the two turn out to be old friends.
  • The Scrounger: Tucker considers this to be his official career.
  • Serenade Your Lover: The first human song Chester plays reminds Mama Bellini of the songs Papa used to sing to her while he was courting her in Italy.
  • Sequel Hook: At the end of the story, Tucker and Harry discuss the idea of going to visit Chester in Connecticut, which they do in the first sequel. Tucker also mentions the idea of a return engagement for Chester to the newsstand, which would only happen in the animated sequel, "A Very Merry Cricket".
  • Shameless Self-Promoter: Mr. Smedley sneaks some self-advertisement into his rave review of Chester's playing, mentioning that, P.S. he also gives piano lessons.
  • Shout-Out: Mr. Smedley tells Mario and Chester the story of Orpheus, who played so beautifully that all nature would stand still to listen, foreshadowing the chapter "Orpheus," in which Chester's own playing makes its way up through the grates above the subway and all of Times Square stands still in admiration. Also, Harry sings a couple of lines from the song "Indian Love Call".
  • Subways Suck: To Chester, at least. Tucker and Harry are perfectly at home in the filth and noise.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Right after they meet, Chester and Tucker bond over a piece of liverwurst that Tucker had found earlier.
  • Talking Animal: The animals in the story are sapient and can communicate with each other, though not with the humans in the story.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Chester loves liverwurst. Also mulberry leaves, a fact which Sai Fong fortunately discovers in one of his books.
  • Wild Teen Party: They sure ain't teenagers, but Chester's welcome-to-the-city party nearly burns the newsstand down when Tucker has a bit too much to drink.

Tropes found in the sequels:

  • Ascended Extra: Mr. Smedley plays a more significant role in Harry Cat's Pet Puppy.
  • Black Sheep: Lulu is described as being a drop-out from a snooty pigeon clan, but we never actually meet any of her relatives.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Jasper in Tucker's Countryside is something of a pest.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The later Meadow novels have a "great treaty" worked out by the inhabitants wherein no one eats anyone, allowing Walter Water Snake to be one of the protagonists.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several in Tucker's Countryside, which all come together when Tucker has his "Eureka!" Moment.
  • The Ditz: Lulu is a cheerful scatterbrain.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Again subverted in Tucker's Countryside, when Mrs. Hadley goes after Tucker with a broom, but played straight with Louisa the lunch-counter lady in Harry Cat's Pet Puppy.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Tucker has one when he comes up with his Zany Scheme to save the meadow.
  • Formally-Named Pet: Miss Catherine in Pet Puppy.
  • Gigantic Adults, Tiny Babies: Huppy starts out small, but quickly grows and grows and grows..
  • I Was Named "My Name": When he finally finds a permanent home, Huppy ends up being called Happy.
  • Mama's Boy: Mr. Smedley, even though his mother is deceased at the time of the novels.
  • Portmanteau: "Huppy" comes from "Harry's Puppy".
  • Put on a Bus: It's mentioned at one point that Mario is now off studying the violin. Also Mickey the lunch-counter guy gets replaced with Louisa.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Averted with Walter Water Snake, who is something of a Deadpan Snarker, but basically well-meaning.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Lulu falls into this territory; she is introduced as being an associate of Harry and Tucker's in Pet Puppy, then appears in the Interquel Chester Cricket's Pigeon Ride.
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: Tucker almost drowns during a flood in Tucker's Countryside.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: The pack of strays Huppy falls in with during Pet Puppy.
  • Waving Signs Around: In "Tucker's Countryside", the local human children stage this kind of protest as the Meadow is threatened with destruction.
  • We Need a Distraction: Harry, Tucker and Lulu do this with some policemen who are chasing Huppy.
  • Wise Old Turtle: Simon, who appears in all of the Meadow-based books, though he does tend to launch into the occasional Rambling Old Man Monologue.
  • Zany Scheme: As noted, Tucker concocts one of these to trick the local human population into thinking that Chester's meadow home is actually a site of historic significance.

Tropes found in the Chuck Jones Short:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The short covers the book pretty well despite only doing it in a half-hour. The main omissions are the episode where Chester eats some paper money and Tucker has to replace it with his own savings and the trip to China Town.
  • Adapted Out: Sai Fong is left out. Instead Mr. Smedley is the one who gives Mario the cricket cage and tells him the Chinese fable of the cricket's origin.
  • Home Sweet Home: In the adaptation, Chester doesn't grow to hate the limelight like he does in the book. He simply sees a falling leaf after hanging out with Tucker Harry, realizes its Autumn and decides he needs to go back to where he truly belongs in the countryside.