The Charms of Liverwurst and Crickets

When I first arrived in America, I was so pleased that I could read all the signs that were in English that it never occurred to me that the average American would not have heard of Enid Blyton. I was thunderstruck. One of the bastions of literature for small children in ex-British colonies all over the world was virtually unknown here, together with creations such as Noddy, the Secret Seven, the Five Find Outers…

Of course, there was some overlap. Americans seemed well acquainted with Roald Dahl and classics such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, but there were gaping holes. Instead, they had all been reading books like the Little House series, Judy Blume, and a book called Old Yeller which I mistakenly thought was about a geyser but turned out to be about a dog. Oh, and another book called Where the Red Fern Grows which I was warned not to read by my college roommate because it would cause me to cry uncontrollably (I still haven’t read it to this day).

My husband’s favourite childhood book was George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square, but despite working my way through such American classics as E.B. White, Laura Ingalls, and Jack London, I never quite got around to it. The other day, however, I listened to the audio book with my children. We were enthralled by the travails of Chester, a country cricket who loves liverwurst so much that he ends up in a Manhattan newsstand. Unlike Frances Hodgson Burnett’s other classic, Little Lord Fauntleroy, it was sweet without being sickening (little Lord F always gave me the urge to kick him down the stairs in his frilly blouse and velvet suit), and brave without being maudlin.

The misadventures of Chester and his friends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat include accidentally eating a two dollar bill and setting fire to the newsstand, all of which cause financial ruin to the Bellinis who run the stall. Despite this heartache, loyalty and friendship prevail, even though at the very end, the cricket must part with his new friends.

The Cricket in Times Square was published in 1960 and in many ways, shows its age. Listening to it, I was transported to an idyllic America of a golden era, where newsstands are run by temperamental, yet good-hearted Italians, and cats talk like Marlon Brando (ok, perhaps that was just the superb narration by Rene Auberjonois). I was slightly alarmed when a Chinese shop owner called Sai Fong made an appearance, but it was all treated with the same well-meaning charm — an Audrey Hepburn, rather than Mickey Rooney turn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As an added plus, the audio book includes a sweet rendition of Chester’s music.

Snack Suggestion:

  • Braunschweiger liverwurst on crackers, with tiny pickled gherkins.
  • A glass of cold milk or fizzy apple cider to recall the slow September days.

What was your favourite childhood book?

13 responses to “The Charms of Liverwurst and Crickets”

  1. been all about getting recommendations for children’s books these days as i’ve been scrambling to find alternatives to the fairy princesses superstars and thor graphic novels. going to the library today, in fact, so i will look for the audio book of the cricket in times square!

    i loved all the above mentioned american classics as well as the black stallion! had the series, watched the movie, and had some horse figures.

    • Ah, “The Black Stallion”! I used to get that confused with “Black Beauty” which was a real tear-jerker and made me skittish about books about black horses. Maybe it’s time to revisit it. Did you collect Breyer horses?

  2. Yes! I grew up in the Ukraine, and I agree, I had some catching up to do on the very same titles you are mentioning. At the same time, there were also many books that I’ve read, but that seemed unfamiliar to public. I guess it’s natural, in a way. I feel like I’m playing catch up all the time.

    • Luckily there are lots of good American children’s books — and more published all the time! I have to say that going to the library, kids’ book covers are getting more and more enticing 🙂

  3. Wow, after reading this post, I felt like there was a whole new world of children’s books I could expose my daughter to that I had never encountered as a child. I grew up with the classic American tales. Enid Blyton who? I will have to find out!

    Yang-Sze, you really must read “Where the Red Fern Grows”. It was the first book I read as a youth that I was indelibly touched by. I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks.

    • There are lots of good British children’s books! I also recommend anything by Diana Wynne Jones (“Howl’s Moving Castle”, “The Lives of Christopher Chant”), E. Nesbit (“The Treasure Seekers”) and many more. In fact, I’m compiling a list of favourite books for my UK publisher, so maybe I’ll do blog post on them.

  4. My childhood favorites included “Mouse and the Motorcycle” and “The Wind in the Willows”. But there was one story that I remember really enjoying called “The Genie of Sutton Place”. I don’t remember who wrote it, and it may not be a Classic, but thru the eyes of a grade schooler, it was a hoot. Then again, I also thought the movie ‘Fletch’ was AMAZING when I was twelve…

  5. Where the Red Fern Grows is indeed incredibly depressing, but it’s still worth a read. I sat in on my eight-year old nephew’s class last week, where they read a depressing chapter of Willy Wonka, and I realized that most of the books I read as a kid were pretty depressing. Indeed, I find most fiction depressing, which is probably why I don’t read much of it anymore.

    My favorite book growing up was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer!

    • Don’t give up on fiction yet! I’ve tried to read Mark Twain many times but always got bogged down by the use of local dialect. I think if it were an audio book, it would be a lot easier for me to understand…The other thing I’m struck by is that classics like Tom Sawyer actually have a far more sophisticated vocabulary than the average kids’ book today.

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