Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book note: The Good Master, by Kate Seredy

I've been having a blast dipping into some old books in the "Classics to Grow On" series put out by Keepworthy Books, a division of Parents' Magazine, New York. The latest has been The Family Treasury of Children's Stories: Fun, Fables & Adventure, compiled by Pauline Rush Evans, c. 1956. One of the selections in it is the opening chapter of The Good Master by Kate Seredy.

In short, ten-year-old Jancsi has been told that his cousin Kate from the city is coming to visit their ranch on the Hungarian plains because she has had the measles and is delicate. Jancsi has no idea what the measles are or what delicate means, but he's sure that all these unknown factors add up to something wonderful, and that she will be like one of the princesses in the fairy stories his mother has told him. Instead he winds up meeting an ordinary looking little girl the railroad guard cannot hand over fast enough, she has been so much trouble.

In the introduction to this story, the editor notes that as time goes on Kate improves under the guidance of "the good master," as Jancsi's father is called. (She has a lot of room for improvement, I might say. I don't want to say more, because I don't want to spoil the surprises.)

If this opening chapter is anything to go by, it's a good read: adventurous, humorous, with details on life in rural Hungary and sharp observations about human nature. The book was originally published in 1935, and as I understand it was based on recollections from the author's childhood. Kate is still a spoiled brat where my excerpt breaks off, but Jancsi is trying to rise to the occasion. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the book.

The author was awarded the Newbery award in 1938 for her book The White Stag.

There's a bit more (not much, but a little) on Seredy at this post at Semicolon. Sherry notes that there was a sequel to The Good Master, called The Singing Tree, which came out in 1940.

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