Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Good Master, by Kate Seredy

Having read The White Stag, I was bracing myself for another slog when another Kate Seredy book came my way. But, I was very pleasantly surprised!

In addition to the gorgeous illustrations by the author, The Good Master is a sweet, easy to read, engaging story. It's in the same kind of category as Heidi and The Secret Garden - a thin, vaguely unhealthy city girl comes to the country and experiences honest work, good simple food, and becomes a new person. Instead of the Yorkshire moors or the Swiss mountains, this story takes place on the fruited plains of pre-WWI Hungary.

There is a boy, Jancsi, who lives with his mother and father on a large ranch. At the beginning of the book, he is excited that his cousin Kate, who he has never met, will be coming from the city to stay with his family. He does not have siblings, and is looking forward to company, "even a girl". When Kate arrives, though, she is not only delicate, but a little hellion, and almost as much fun as a brother! She gets into all kinds of trouble, and keeps Jancsi and his parents on their toes, but she comes around when she, along with the reader, is introduced to the rhythms of life in the country, from Easter to Christmas. As examples, we see eggs dyed (an Easter tradition I was not surprised to see) and all the boys in the village sprinkling all the girls in the village with water (an Easter tradition I had never heard of!).

There are lovely descriptions of various folk traditions surrounding major holidays, there are traditional folk tales told by sheepherders and millers (including the one told in The White Stag, but shorter and much more enjoyable!), there are gypsies, a circus, near-death experiences... and there is plenty of good-will throughout. Comparing it to Heidi and The Secret Garden is, I think, high praise well deserved. Unlike those two classics, however, there is also a main character who is a boy, and I think this could be enjoyed by both boys and girls. More people should read it. I'm also looking forward to its sequel, The Singing Tree (one of the1940 Newbery Honors)!

Note: Kate  Seredy was the illustrator of two 1936 Newbery books - she also illustrated the first edition of Caddie Woodlawn!

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