Mr. Popper's Penguins...the illustrations were spaced too far apart plus many of them were on the boring side. Hopefully, illustrations won't always be a deciding factor in which books we choose/like, but for right now, they are very important.
And the illustrations for The Cricket in Times Square? Perfect. It probably goes without saying since it was Garth Williams, and honestly, how can you go wrong with Garth Williams? His attention to detail is unparalleled. It's obvious that he read the story (maybe multiple times) because he captured the most minute information (for example, Aaron and Max loved that they could see the little stack of coins inside Chester's cage with Chester perched proudly on top).
We didn't just love the illustrations though. The story was great, too:
When Chester Cricket hops into the picnic basket in his Connecticut meadow, he is only thinking about tasting a little liverwurst. But he falls asleep and when he wakes up he is on a train bound for New York City. He finally manages to escape the basket at the subway station. He realizes he is a long way from home, but before long he is picked up by a young boy named Mario whose parents own a newspaper stand, and then he meets Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat who become very devoted and loyal friends. Chester loves to "sing," but everyone is surprised and amazed when they hear him playing not only cricket songs but copying any song he hears. Soon his fame spreads throughout New York City.
I suppose some might find the beginning of this book a mite slow, but it was perfect for us. Each character is introduced one chapter at a time, so initially, before we began reading each day, we would review who we already knew: "What is the mouse's name?" Um, Tucker! "And the boy? What's his name?" Um, Mario! Aaron and Max were deeply invested in these characters and would mention them like old friends. (The hardest name for Max to remember was Mama Bellini. What's the mama's name again? "Mama Bellini." Oh yeah, Mama Bellini...and said in the voice of a two-year-old, that's about the cutest thing you will ever hear.)
This story opened up a whole new world for Aaron and Maxwell. They've never been to New York City. They had no idea what a subway was nor a newspaper stand nor Chinatown. And sure, I could have told them what a subway station was, but now that they know that's where Chester and Harry and Tucker lived, they'll never forget it. (I am so curious to know what their mental picture of a subway station is and how accurate it is to real life.)
This book reminded me a little of The Trumpet of the Swan. Both Louis the Swan and Chester the Cricket play music that is not only recognized by humans but wildly applauded and appreciated. However, I guess the stories would be more similar if Chester couldn't make any sound with his legs and had to learn how to play a miniature violin...or something like that.
The Cricket in Times Square is just such a classic tale of friendship. Hard things happen: Chester eats a two-dollar bill, Tucker practically burns down the newspaper stand, Mama Bellini wants to throw out Chester...but through it all they stick together and work out solutions. The story itself may be more than fifty years old, but in my opinion, it has just as much charm as it must have when it was first published.
P.S. I'm curious...has anyone read any of the companion stories to this one (Tucker's Countryside, Chester Cricket's New Home, etc.)? Were any of them any good?