Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reading Through History: The Good Master by Kate Seredy (1935)

Jancsi, who lives on a ranch in Hungary in the years prior to World War I,  is thrilled to learn that his "delicate" cousin Kate will be coming from Budapest to stay with his family for the summer. When Kate arrives, however, she is not quite what Jancsi expected. Instead of being frail and sickly, Kate is wild and strong-willed! As Kate's uncle - the "good master" named in the title - does his best to teach Kate the proper way to behave, Kate and Jancsi have many adventures involving horses, gypsies, and the county fair.

Despite the foreign setting, this is a book with which boys and girls will feel immediately at home. The Good Master is a warm, joyful story about the growing friendship between two children, and the comfort provided by a close-knit family. Because the story is based on true events from the author's own childhood, the actions of both Kate and Jancsi and their affection for Jancsi's parents feel very authentic, and the reader can relate strongly to both of the main characters.

Another wonderful feature of this book is the inclusion of Hungarian folktales, which are told to the children by different characters they encounter throughout the story. For American readers, these stories give wonderful insight into the customs and traditions of Hungarian culture, and they also help the reader to understand Kate's growing appreciation for her culture, and for life on the ranch with her cousin's family.

This is a charming novel for families to share together as a read-aloud, or for children in grades 3-7 to read independently. It is similar in style and tone to The Galloping Goat by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, as well as to the Little House books, and to Understood Betsy. It also makes a very interesting companion to Seredy's 1937 novel, The White Stag, which combines history and folklore to tell the story of how Hungary came to be settled. The Good Master is also followed by a sequel, The Singing Tree (1939).

1 comment:

  1. My older daughter loved this book, but she also liked Black Beauty and 1984! It was never one of my favorites, but I did enjoy the artwork.