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.
- 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?