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Letters About Literature National Winners 2011

National Honor Winner, Level 2: Christian Lusardi, CT

Dear George Selden,

Imagine finding yourself trapped in a temporary prison, then ending up in a frightening world filled with unknown dangers. That is what happened to Chester in your children’s classic The Cricket in Times Square. And it’s exactly what happened to me, too. Except instead of being transported to the strange, scary world of New York City like your little cricket, I woke up one day in the terrifying world of pediatric intensive care being treated for cancer and relying on oxygen tubes to breathe.

In your book, Chester had to face some mighty tough obstacles for such a small cricket. Trapped inside a picnic basket, he was left on a train bound for the middle of New York City. Alone and lost, he had no idea where he was. Then Chester met up with a cat named Harry and Tucker the mouse, who took the cricket “under their wing.” He learned to trust them both, along with a boy named Mario, who helped out at his father’s Times Square newsstand. Eventually, Chester adapted to his new life. He made the best of the situation, creating music for each passerby and learning more about his surroundings. Through it all, he felt lucky to have such fine new friends to help him until he could find his way back to where he really belonged: a sunny field in Connecticut.

Like Chester, I too had to struggle through a situation where I felt desperate and alone. For the first few nights in the hospital, I had no idea where I was; between the very aggressive chemotherapy drugs and painkillers to handle the excruciating pain, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my eyes. But, like Chester, I soon met some new friends whom I quickly learned to trust. They knew the ins and outs of the hospital and medical protocols, the best treatment plan for me, and the right medications to prescribe. Even though I was little, I instinctively knew that I would have to rely on these kind of strangers to help me recover, clear my body of cancer, and get back to where I truly belonged: my everyday life as a kid growing up in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Chester would not have survived in New York City if it hadn’t been for his friends. He was just a tiny fellow, and there’s no way he could have faced and conquered the challenges of city life all by himself. I can say the same thing for myself: I wouldn’t have survived my battle with cancer if not for the many doctors and nurses who took me into their care. Most people never think twice about how important strangers can be in their lives; Chester and I, on the other hand, will never forget them. Without the kindness and wisdom of these trusted new companions, neither of us would ever have made it back to where we longed to be.

The ending of The Cricket in Times Square was both happy and sad at the same time. Chester had to leave behind Tucker, Harry, and Mario, with no way of knowing if he’d ever see them again. But Chester also regained a home that he loved, a familiar place where he could make his cricket music with others like him. Likewise, my final departure from the hospital was bittersweet. After being in and out of the hospital for more than two years, I had developed some incredible friendships with the people who gave me my treatments, handled all of the side effects and set-backs, and cared for me afterwards. Like Chester’s new friends, they had saved my life. But as my treatments grew fewer and farther between, I knew that I would eventually leave the hospital for once and for all and might never see them again. While that thought was troubling to me, I also knew that I had something wonderful to look forward to: a normal kid’s life, without needles, pain, sickness, and worried looks. Chester and I both found our way back to where we belonged, back to where there were others like us, waiting for us, ready to welcome us home.

As if by fate, I read the book The Cricket in Times Square at the beginning of fourth grade, right before I got sick. My diagnosis in the middle of one scary Saturday night whisked me away from everything familiar to me without warning. Thoughts of Chester surviving in his new world inspired me to fight with all my strength and to keep fighting through the long haul. Chester and I not only survived, but thrived, despite the terrible odds against us. And, along the way, we both made some incredible new friends. Mine included a brave little cricket, and for that, I thank you.

With gratitude,

Christian Lusardi