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the good master

7 january 2023

This will be a brief note on Kate Seredy's The Good Master (Newbery runner-up, 1936), mostly to fulfill my Newbery completist urge. I hope to write about Seredy's children's books on Hungarian themes in other venues, so will save some criticism for that. Meanwhile, some reporting-in on my reading as it occurs.

The Good Master is kind of plotless. It is a country mouse / city mouse story (though the characters are human), and something of a horse book, and something of an excuse to embed Hungarian folktales. Like most books honored by the American Library Association, it has a protagonist (Kate, the city mouse) who is an avid reader, an incipient writer, and a literacy educator.

Kate comes from Budapest to stay out on the great Hungarian plain with her cousin Jancsi and his father Márton. Márton is the "good master" of the title, an omnicomptent father/farmer/rancher/wise mentor. At first, Kate misses Budapest, but she is a natural athlete and hellraiser who soon finds that rural society is a great place to work off her excess energy. Various adventures involving stampedes, fast-moving streams, and rapacious gypsies provide what intermittent story-lines there are, plus there are those charming folktales dropped in at random; but otherwise it's just a chronicle of a year in the country, with its seasons and work routines and festive rituals.

Jancsi romanticizes Kate before she arrives, and is initially put off by her tomboyishness when she shows up; but soon he comes to the conclusion that Kate is "amost as good as a real boy" (38). The Good Master is a pleasant, dated book, brimming with good feeling, kept in print by its own slice of a Newbery honor and the coat-tails of its author/illustrator's later Medal for The White Stag.

Seredy, Kate. The Good Master. Illustrated by the author. 1935. New York: Puffin [Penguin], 1986. PZ 7 .S48Go