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The Cricket Winter by Felice Holman

The Cricket Winter (1967)

by Felice Holman

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I loved this book as a child, and wish I could find it again. I'm sorry I ever got rid of it.

ADDENDUM: I found it, and it's just as wonderful a book as it was when I first read it, about 40 years ago! ( )
  fuzzi | Dec 6, 2011 |
The Cricket Winter by Felice Holman is a beautifully written piece of prose that explores a complex theme. The simple plot and language make it appropriate for a young child, while an older reader or adult can understand enjoy the themes and ideas that are introduced.
On the surface, the plot is simple. Cricket has disagreed with his fiancée and retired under a house for the winter. Nine-year-old Simms Silvanus is in disgrace with his father and feels misunderstood and ignored. To pass the time, he makes a telegraph key and accidentally contacts Cricket. Together, they destroy the rat, Hostis, who is plaguing the mice and other creatures Cricket has met under the house. Simms decides to protect the creatures by not telling his father of his success in trapping the rat, and he sends a message to Cricket's fiancée in the garage. Cricket ends the story by saying “that is everything”.
The clear, short sentences give the story a pristine, yet lyrical, feeling. Holman has ably captured the essence of each character in her language. The Mus family's hysterical but pompous personality is shown in their disconnected thoughts and formal words. Hostis' disinterest in the creatures around him is shown by giving him little participation in the story. He has four short speeches, and only one is actually addressed to another animal. The ants show their solidarity, always speaking in unison. Holman emphasizes the lyrical and thematic elements of the story in the philosophical "asides" at the beginning and end of the chapters. These short vignettes are written in the third person, allowing the reader to identify with the cricket, who experiences the story from outside, from an observer's viewpoint.
These asides also give insight into the character of Cricket, helping the reader understand the deep tragedy of his involvement. Cricket has begun the story with an argument with his fiancée over how they will raise their children. He believes that "Cricket children are, by their very nature, free beings, independent!" The lady cricket disagrees, saying, "We shall be firm with them….And lead them into paths of high moral behavior and great purpose." Throughout the story, Cricket is caught between both ideas. He believes and desires to be a free being, to be independent of the creatures that live under the house. However, he is also moved by their plight and feels a moral responsibility to aid them. This contradiction in his nature is only partially resolved when he helps Simms kill the rat. At that point, Cricket knows that he has done the right thing, but emotionally he is in agony over the necessity of Hostis' death. The story does not tell us how he resolves his difference with the lady cricket. Perhaps Cricket's experiences will allow him to compromise with her, now that he has learned that everyone has moral responsibility, no matter how "free" they are. Hostis, who felt no responsibility towards the creatures that he lived with, was a threat to society and was destroyed.
The main theme dealt with in this book is the ethical dilemma of killing a creature that is a menace to society. Cricket is horrified and saddened by the rat’s death, but realizes that it is inevitable. The rat’s conscience was appealed to, but he showed no remorse. As long as the rat was an annoyance and a problem, the other creatures put up with him; but when he threatened their existence, they had to protect themselves. Cricket does not believe that the rat should be killed because he himself is so full of life that he cannot bear the thought of another creature being deprived of it. However, the other creatures in the building point out to him that it is not a matter of convenience, emotion, or even justice. To the mice, the rat's death means life, and so Hostis' execution becomes a matter of fitness to live. In this case, although it is the cellar creatures that judge Hostis' right to live, it is Cricket who ultimately decides that the rat is not fit to live because it is Cricket who sets in motion the events leading to his death. Holman's conclusion is that when a creature shows no remorse for anti-social actions and is a threat to the community, that creature is no longer fit to live.
The uncomplicated plot and concise language make this story appropriate for younger children. They will enjoy the suspense of the plot's problems: will Simms be reunited to his father? Will Cricket resolve his argument with his lady cricket? Will the cellar creatures be freed from the rat's depredations? Although they poorly express the characters of the various creatures, the pen and ink illustrations will help younger readers retain interest in the parts of the story that lack action. There are many questions raised here that will not be perceived by a younger audience however, older readers will be able to pick up the thematic elements. The main thesis of the book, that a creature is no longer fit to live when he threatens society should raise questions in the mind of an older student. Do they agree with Holman's conclusion, that Cricket is justified in helping destroy Hostis? Another element that will be picked up by older readers is Holman's use of Latin names for the characters, which gives the reader an impression of simplicity and dignity. The Sylvanus family is appropriately named, for they live in the woods. The names of the creatures raise an interesting thought: by giving the animals their general Latin names and not individual appellations, is Holman trying to express the universal importance of her message, or give a feeling of unity within the small world she has created? As the story progresses, the reader can see that although each creature is identified in general with the rest of its breed, they are also distinct personalities and are not distressed by the lack of recognition of their individuality. Because of its excellent writing, strong theme, and appealing plot, The Cricket Winter is a beautifully written book that will appeal to all ages.
  JeanLittleLibrary | Feb 5, 2011 |
This is a new edition of a book from the 60's. I didn't see anything too exciting about it. ( )
  AnnaScott | May 13, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802852890, Hardcover)

Nine-year-old Simms is enormously wise, yet no one - not even his parents - will listen to him. Cricket, living a lonely life beneath the floorboards in Simms's room, worries about how he will reunite with his bride-to-be. One winter's day, life changes for both cricket and boy when they discover they can communicate with each other. Through Morse code, the two tell of their troubles, listen to each other's ideas, and together learn that it's sometimes difficult to do the right thing. Reissued with charming new illustrations, this beloved classic by acclaimed author Felice Holman is sure to delight a new generation of readers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:05 -0400)

A little boy exchanges Morse code messages with the cricket that lives in his house and together they trap the rat that has been plaguing the boy's father and the cricket's friends.

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