It has been a while since I reviewed a classic children’s chapter book. And that’s not because I don’t love them—I do. Profusely. But keeping two voracious readers supplied with quality books means I have to pick and choose what I pre-read for them, and I have my methods of pre-reading triage: if a classic book turns up on a trustworthy reading list, I’m pretty comfortable handing it over to the girls without pre-reading it myself, especially if I’m already familiar with the author’s work.
But a new book, no matter which list it turns up on, generally gets a pre-read, because there are lots of things in those new books that need discussing. (There are, of course, lots of things in those old books that need discussing, too, but those tend to be discussions we already have regularly. The topics in new books sometimes catch me off guard. Which is a whole other post, I suppose.)
That all is a preface to this post, which is for a classic book that I pre-read and adored.
The Good Master is set in Hungary and tells the story of Jancsi and his wild cousin Kate, whose father sends her from the city to live with Jancsi’s family. Kate is untamed, wild with a sort of energy that wears me out as I read, but Jancsi’s father slowly, patiently gentles her.
Kate Seredy (Kate the author, not the cousin) shows the progression of their relationship, from unstable to steady and flourishing, abounding with trust, and it is that progression that made me love The Good Master. But she also depicts life in a small, pre-war Hungarian village so beautifully, perhaps because she herself was born in Hungary before immigrating to the United States.
(Additional interesting facts: Kate Seredy wrote her books in English, her second language. She also illustrated them herself, so there’s a depth and richness to her work that is hard to place but might have something to do with that.)
The sequel to The Good Master, The Singing Tree, follows Jancsi’s family and village through WWI. I loved sharing this one with Lydia, because while everything else we read about the World Wars was told from the Allied perspective, The Singing Tree shared the perspective of one small village caught up on the Axis side of this global conflict.
If The Good Master depicts ordinary hospitality—as Jancsi’s family invites Kate into both the blessings and boundaries of their home—The Singing Tree depicts hospitality under duress. Jancsi’s family expands in a beautiful way throughout the course of a terrible war.
The Good Master
Kate Seredy (1935)