I enjoyed this book as a child, but for some reason as an adult I had come to mistakenly believe that it was one of those books that had a great plot but which didn’t age well in terms of language use. How wrong I was! Re-reading the book, I found it charming in terms of both writing style and events. Harry Cat, Chester Cricket, and especially Tucker Mouse all had different personalities that came through in their actions and dialogue, so characterization was definitely distinguished. I thought the themes of the book – mostly about friendship and that fame isn’t everything – were also clear and well done.
When Sai Fong, the Chinese man, first appeared I thought, “Oh no!” thinking that it would be a horrendous stereotype that might ruin the book for me, times having changed quite a bit since the book won the Newbery Honor in 1961. But I was pleasantly surprised when the character was treated with respect and given a chance to help Mario without becoming a strange mystic or turning into a caricature. There may have been a little too much weird laughter, but I choose to see that as him being a cheerful fellow. I was listening to the audiobook, so it’s possible that any illustrations might have been off, but I couldn’t see them, and plus the Newbery is awarded for text alone.