Monday, April 7, 2008

George Selden

The Cricket in Times Square
by George Selden
Recommended Age: 8+

This thin, children's book illustrated by Garth Williams (who is perhaps best known for his illustrations of E. B. White's classic Charlotte's Web), is the familiar tale of a musical cricket named Chester, a greedy mouse named Tucker, and a cool cat named Harry, who live together (more or less) in the Times Square subway station in Manhattan, NY, NY, USA.

The cat and mouse actually live in a drain pipe, as a sort of furry odd couple, subsisting on things dropped by passengers rushing through the station and scrounged from the lunch counter. The cricket is the pet of the little boy whose Italian immigrant parents run a struggling newsstand. But the cricket has remarkable musical talents which soon turn things around and bring fame and fortune to the little Times Square family.

Warm-hearted, funny, and only a little bit politically incorrect (the bits with the little Chinese man talking in dialect would never get past the editor these days), it's a story I fondly remember having read to me when I was small, and if you have similarly fond memories, I hope you read it to your kids!

Harry Cat's Pet Puppy
by George Selden
Recommended Age: 8+

In this sequel to The Cricket in Times Square, the "odd couple" of Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse adopts a stray puppy found abandoned in a dead-end alley. The puppy is a sheep-dog type mutt, the kind with hair hanging in front of its eyes, very shaggy, cheerful, good-natured, and mischievous, and also pretty sensitive. He starts out talking baby talk, which is how "Harry's Puppy" gets shortened to "Huppy" as his name.

The cat and mouse have their share of difficulties raising a growing dog, but when the dog finally outgrows the drainpipe things come to a head: they have to find him another home, or else abandon him to a pack of feral dogs running around the park. They decide the perfect candidate is a fussy old music teacher named Horatio Smedley, who lives in a huge apartment with his late mother's Siamese cat, Miss Catherine.

Problem #1: persuading Miss Catherine to let Huppy move in. Problem #2: convincing Mr. Smedley. With the help of a pigeon named Lulu who talks the language of a hippie (the one thing that dates the book) they tackle these problems in an amusing and heart-warming tale.

Tucker's Countryside
by George Selden
Recommended Age: 8+

Here's another of several stories about Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, beginning with The Cricket in Times Square. In this one, the odd pair goes to visit Chester Cricket in Connecticut. It's not just a social visit; it's an emergency. Chester needs their help foiling a plan to turn his meadow into an apartment complex, and only the animals and a handful of children seem to care.

With lots of warmth, comedy, and a little hair-raising drama (including a flood that almost sweeps Tucker and Chester away) the story finally climaxes with a brilliant ploy to stop the bulldozers. It's hard not to like these characters, and this is a decent story. Well recommended.

EDIT: Selden, whose real last name was Thompson, died in 1989. Under the name of Selden he wrote four more books about Chester and his friends, plus The Genie of Sutton Place and Oscar Lobster's Fair Exchange. He also wrote The Story of Harold under the pseudonym Terry Andrews. Thanks to Wikipedia for the additional info.

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