The story begins with a mouse named Tucker sitting in an abandoned drainpipe in the Times Square subway station in New York City, watching a boy named Mario tending the newsstand that his father owns. Mario stayed late on Saturdays, keeping the newsstand open and hoping that business would get better even though it never did. The station feels different this late at night, without the hustle and bustle it has during the day.
A train stops and only a few people get out. Mario tries to get them to buy papers without any luck. Tucker mouse is disappointed for Mario as well. Mario's friend Paul the conductor comes to talk to him, and then buys a newspaper and walks away before he gets his change so that Mario can keep the extra money.
Pleased that Paul was so kind to Mario, Tucker retreats into the hole in the station wall where he makes his home out of things he has collected from various places in New York. He is just about to head to bed when he hears a strange sound that he has never before heard in New York City: the soft, musical sound of a cricket chirping.
Mario hears the sound as well and stands up to listen closely. He recognizes it as a cricket, because the previous summer he had gone to visit a friend on Long Island and heard a chorus of crickets as the sun set. It is strange for him to hear only one now. He moves toward the sound as it continues, the chirps farther apart this time.
He pinpoints the sound coming from a pile of waste papers and soot in the corner and reaches down to feel around. He cups his hand around a small insect with six legs, two long antennae, and wings folded onto its back. He takes the cricket back to the newsstand and puts it on a Kleenex, cleaning off the dirt that covers it as well. Once he is finished, the little black cricket is glossy and clean.
Mario finds a matchbox on the floor of the station and, folding a sheet of Kleenex into it, makes it a bed for the cricket, who settles himself in nicely. Thinking that the cricket is hungry, Mario finds a piece of chocolate in his jacket pocket for it to eat.
Mama and Papa Bellini, Mario's parents, arrive at the station to take Mario home. Mario excitedly shows them the cricket he found. Mama is not pleased, and tells him to throw it away. Mario stubbornly argues that crickets are good luck, and this cricket is special. Mama refuses to let him keep the cricket as a pet because she does not want a bug in her house. Mario realizes that he will not win this argument, so he stops, and tells Papa how many papers they sold that night.
Mario continues to remind his mother of all the special things that crickets can do, still hopeful. Finally, Papa suggests that he keep the cricket in the newsstand rather than take him home. Mario pleads with his mother, saying that he never got a dog or cat or any other kind of pet. Papa declares that he can keep the cricket, and Mama grudgingly agrees as long as no more crickets show up or they develop a strange disease. Happily Mario and Papa lock the newsstand until the next morning, the cricket safe inside.
Just like any story, the first chapters of this book help to establish the setting and characters and introduce readers to the world in which the story takes place. Readers learn immediately where the story will take place: New York City, particularly in the Times Square subway station.
This is an unusual choice for a story about a cricket, since crickets are usually associated with nature, the wilderness, and the outdoors. The choice to put a cricket in an unsuitable place like a New York City subway station captures readers' attention, and it means the story will partly be about the cricket getting used to his new surroundings.
Mario is immediately characterized as a conscientious, caring boy. He cares about his family's welfare and does his best to sell papers for them. He runs the newsstand so that his parents can have time to themselves once a week. And when he hears the cricket, he is not afraid of it, nor does he try to kill it; instead he is compassionate and gives the cricket a safe place to live. Mario's kindness will certainly play a major role in the rest of the story.
Right now, readers do not know much about Tucker Mouse other than that he likes to observe the happenings in the subway station. He is definitely the sort of mouse that likes to know everything that goes on, and he prides himself on knowing every sound and sight of New York City. He also takes it upon himself to watch over Mario as the young boy works his family's newsstand. Tucker's position as an overseer will also come into play later on in the story.
The cricket's chirping sound is immediately described as musical; Mario compares it to the sound of a violin. This is a bit of foreshadowing, clueing readers into what will happen later on in the story and how the cricket's song will be significant.
Mama's unwillingness to allow Mario to keep the cricket, as well as her warning that if anything strange happens because of the cricket she will get rid of him immediately, also foreshadows trouble to come later in the book. The cricket's presence in the newsstand is set up as one of the book's main conflicts. The other is the lack of business for the newsstand, which is also established in these early chapters.
Author George Selden has stated that in his books, he likes to combine elements of the everyday with more fantastical things. This is clearly present at the beginning of The Cricket in Times Square. A New York subway station is a commonplace, everyday scene, and Mario and his family are just normal people going about their daily lives. At the same time, though, there is a component of fantasy, since, beyond their notice, there are thinking, talking animals like Tucker the mouse.
This adds to the sense of wonder surrounding the story, and makes it more interesting to read. It is easy for readers to relate to Mario, but also thrilling to picture animals in the real world, acting like these animals do.