George Selden (1929–1989) made an auspicious children’s book debut in 1960, when Farrar, Straus and Giroux published The Cricket in Times Square. The story of a Connecticut cricket who gets swept onto a commuter train and lands in Times Square, where he makes friends with a mouse and a cat, warmed the hearts of young and old. The novel, illustrated by Garth Williams, won a Newbery Honor in 1961 and spawned six more in the Chester Cricket and His Friends series, originally published between 1969 and 1987. All illustrated by Williams, the novels have sold a combined total of one million copies. Today, FSG is releasing the seven novels in e-book format for the first time for the new tablet-toting generation of young readers.
The newly released e-books in the series are The Cricket in Times Square, Tucker’s Countryside, Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy, Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride, Chester Cricket’s New Home, Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse, and The Old Meadow. In addition, FSG is issuing an e-book version of The Genie of Sutton Place, Selden’s 1973 stand-alone novel for slightly older readers.
Also just published as an e-book from Square Fish is Starring Harry, one of three titles in Henry Cat and Tucker Mouse, a My Reader paperback series written by Thea Feldman and illustrated by Aleksey and Olga Ivanov, which is based on the characters created by Selden. (E-book editions of the other two titles in that series, Harry to the Rescue! and Tucker’s Beetle Band, were released earlier.)
Joy Peskin, editorial director of FSG Books for Young Readers, explained that the Selden novels are being released as e-books now because the publisher just recently came to an agreement with the author’s estate that gives FSG the right to publish the books in this format. Peskin is delighted, for both personal and professional reasons, to make Selden’s books available to the new crop of e-book readers. “The Cricket in Times Square was one of my favorite books as a child,” she said. “I remember my mother reading it aloud to me, even after I could read on my own. To me the novel was just magical – and still is. I always keep several copies on my shelf to pass on to children I know.”
On another level, Peskin was pleased to have the chance to bring out Selden’s fiction as e-books to shine a new spotlight on the novels, given their longstanding importance to the FSG list. “These books are jewels in the crown of our backlist,” she said. “We think of books like these whenever we acquire a new book, and ask ourselves, ‘Can it sit beside The Cricket of Times Square, or Holes, or Madeleine L’Engle’s novels?’ Not that we’re looking to emulate those books, but we want to continue to publish books that line up with the quality of these classics.”
Selden’s knack for characterization has contributed to the success of the Chester Cricket and His Friends series, Peskin observed, as has Williams’s ability to depict those characters. “I feel it all comes down to the author’s characters and the relationships he builds among them,” she said. “The way he imbues his animals with humanistic characteristics without losing their animal qualities is very special. And Garth Williams brings the animals to life in a way that pays homage to both their existence as animals and to these humanistic qualities. This is no small task! Anthropomorphic animals can easily look cartoonish, but not when rendered by Williams’s careful hand.”
The Selden novels have remained consistently in print since their original publication, underscoring the timelessness of the stories. “He was an author who was able to craft stories that endure the test of time,” said Peskin. “These are books that parents remember from their own childhood, and we’ve found that parents are more apt to buy e-books for younger children if they’re familiar with the titles. We’re thrilled to introduce today’s readers to these backlist gems in e-book format.”