The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

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Title: The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1961

Premise:

Chester cricket is accidentally transported from his rural Connecticut home to the Times Square subway station in New York City.  A friendly cat and mouse help Chester fit into this new and foreign environment, and a boy named Mario Bellini adopts Chester as his new pet.  Chester is instrumental in saving the Bellini’s struggling newspaper stand.

My thoughts:

This book was completely new to me and I’m happy to report that it was an enjoyable read.  The story is very basic, but the animal characters are charming and really the focus of the story.

My two favorite characters are Chester cricket (of course) and Sai Fong, the Chinese gentleman.  Chester is so good-natured and you can’t help but feel sorry for him.  This poor little country cricket finds himself dumped in the big, loud, dirty city without a soul to help him.  Thank goodness Tucker mouse and Harry cat step in!  It’s fun to imagine the scenes when Chester is giving his concerts in the subway and all of the people are standing there rapt.  The child in me wants to go find a cricket now just to listen to their song.  (Incidentally, we had a cricket infestation in our house several years ago, and I can assure you that it’s not too fun hunting loud crickets in the middle of the night when all you want is to get some sleep.)

When we are first introduced to Sai Fong, the man who owns a Chinese laundry and trinket shop, I was afraid that it was going to be another stereotypical portrayal of a Chinese person, hinting at our American superiority.  Thankfully that was not the case.  Sai Fong is a lovable character who is ecstatic about Mario’s lucky pet cricket.  He helps Mario get a cage for his cricket (really a beautiful pagoda), has them over for dinner, and supplies Mario with mulberry leaves to feed Chester.  Although his character doesn’t step outside the bounds of the typical Chinese character, he is presented with a loving eye.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  Though it has not become one of my favorites, I still think it’s a great chapter book for kids.  The story would need a bit more than pure fluff to put it on my list of cherished books.

I recommend The Cricket in Times Square to elementary-age kids or as a cute family read-aloud.

Possible Objections:

  • Chinese man’s language is garbled and spelled phonetically (if you’re particularly sensitive, you might find this offensive)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

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Title: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman  It’s a 1987 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

Jemmy is the unfortunate whipping boy for Prince Brat, spoiled and wayward heir to the throne.  Feeling bored, the Prince decides to run away and takes Jemmy with him.  In the outside world the Prince discovers that he needs Jemmy’s help, and the two boys develop a bond which neither one expected.  Can the boys outwit a couple of cutthroats who are determined to catch them so that they can collect a ransom from the king?

My thoughts:

I’ve loved this book since I was a kid!  It’s very short and ideal for children who are reading beginner chapter books.  There are occasional black and white drawings scattered throughout the book.

I don’t know how Fleischman did it, but he manages to pack a lot of personality and a great lesson into a very short story.  Prince Brat and Jemmy have very nicely developed characters, each one making you either loathe or love them.  The lesson contained in this book is about friendship and giving people second chances.  Jemmy could have easily left Prince Brat to fend for himself, given how much he had already suffered because of the Prince’s mischievous ways.  However, when the boys were truly in need, they had to rely on one another and they formed a bond which defied convention.

The Prince also got a look at life outside of the castle, which he had never been allowed to engage in before.  He meets a couple of thieves, a young lady and her dancing bear, the hot-potato man, and a rat catcher in the sewer.  He also has many first-time experiences such as shaking a commoner’s hand, going to the fair, exploring the sewers, and eating a potato.  The new adventures and relationships he experiences set him up to be a more thoughtful and considerate ruler when his time comes.

I recommend The Whipping Boy to children who are beginning to read chapter books (though older kids would enjoy the story, too).  It also makes a fun, quick family read-aloud.


Possible Objections:

  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

 

Until next time…

Lori

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Sign of the Beaver

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Title: The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1984

Premise:

Matt and his father have claimed a homestead in the Maine wilderness, but Matt’s father must return to civilization to bring the rest of his family  back.  Does Matt have what it takes to protect their claim and survive until his father returns?  When Matt experiences misfortune, a couple of members of the local Penobscot tribe help him survive.  But how do white settlers and Native People coexist?

My thoughts:

I’m really conflicted on this book.  I enjoyed the story, Matt’s fight for survival, and the blossoming friendship between Attean and Matt.  On the other hand, there were aspects of the book which I really disliked–the dumbing down of the Native Americans, the offensive language, the almost too subtle social commentary.

I’m not a prude when it comes to offensive language in a book, but this is a book aimed at children.  They won’t know that some of the words are outdated or downright offensive.  If it were just a couple of instances it would be easier to overlook, but it’s pretty pervasive.  I most certainly wouldn’t want my child to think that it’s okay to call a woman a “squaw” or a Native American a “savage”.  Okay, rant over.

Apart from that, there are several passages when Matt’s accepted way of thinking is challenged and he comes to a new understanding.  He entertains the idea that perhaps slavery is wrong…maybe Native Americans aren’t as “savage” as he thought…perhaps the white man’s priorities in life are not always superior.  I appreciate that Matt has those crises of thinking, but I think that they are not always spelled out clearly enough that a child would pick up on them.  I hesitate to introduce racist ideas to a child without a very clear follow-up that shows the child why those ideas are wrong.

I suppose the only way I can recommend this book is if you read it with your child and have some very candid discussions about what you are reading.  Some of the issues that will need addressing are slavery, racial terminology, gender roles and terminology, and a more in-depth look at Native American culture.  You can learn more about the Penobscot tribe here.  Also, this link has some helpful curriculum discussion points to address the issues I mentioned.

Possible Objections:

  • Outdated and/or offensive racial language (i.e. Indians, savages, heathen, squaw)
  • Outdated modes of thinking (racism, slavery is normal, Native Americans are uncivilized, etc.)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

mc-higgins

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M.C. Higgins, the Great is the second book from my Thrift Store Young Adult Reading Challenge.  It’s the 1975 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

M.C. Higgins lives on a mountain that his family has owned since his great-grandmother, an escaped slave, made it her haven.  Their home is in danger, though, because of a slag heap left behind by coal miners.  M.C. hopes that his family can escape the mountain when his mother’s heavenly singing voice is discovered.  But will his wishes come true?  Friendship also enters into the tale–with M.C.’s friend Ben, and a mysterious girl who shows up on the mountain one day.

My thoughts:

This book was strange.  It has a unique writing style and the characters’ language is somewhat odd.  Also, I found that I wasn’t very interested in what was going on plot-wise.  It’s very basic, but that doesn’t necessarily make a book boring.  I guess the plot just seemed rather meandering and lacking focus.

The characters were hard to get attached to, as well.  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t care much about what happened to them in the story.  There needs to be an emotional connection with the characters in a book, and that was missing in this story.

I’d say that this is a coming-of-age story, but in my opinion there are coming-of-age stories which are much more engaging, entertaining and meaningful.

I don’t recommend this book, though if you want to try it out it’s aimed at school-age kids.

Rating: 2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

from-the-mixed-up-files

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The boys and I just finished From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as our chapter book for homeschooling.  I read this book as a child, but had forgotten the details.  It’s the 1968 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

Claudia and Jamie Kincaid decide to run away from home and hit upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as their home away from home.  They successfully evade detection–sleeping on one of the antique beds, bathing in the fountain, and hiding their belongings in various locations.  When a statue arrives at the museum which could be the work of Michelangelo, Claudia won’t rest until she finds out the truth about the statue’s origins.

My thoughts:

My kids and I enjoyed this book, even though it is not full of rip-roaring action.  The story is more of a meandering tale about a brother and sister who learn how to be self-sufficient and how to function as a team.  Claudia and Jamie partake in the typical teasing banter of siblings, which adds humor and levity to the story.

I think kids who read this book will enjoy the idea of children taking care of themselves and making an interesting museum their home.  Personally, I found the story amusing but don’t feel like I’ll return to it for any subsequent reads.

This is an amusing book for those who are in the later elementary/preteen years.  I’m not certain that it will hold the attention of everyone in that age group, though.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori