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the singing tree

22 january 2023

Another quick note on a Newbery runner-up that I'd like to treat elsewhere at greater length: Kate Seredy's Singing Tree, honored in 1940.

The Singing Tree is a sequel to The Good Master. Life in rural Hungary couldn't be more idyllic: Jews, gypsies, and Magyars getting along like sweethearts, the earth providing all anyone needs, benevolence like running water. Except it's the summer of 1914, and we know this can't last.

Except the First World War turns out to be just another opportunity for the Nagy family to outdo themselves in good will. With the "good master" Márton away, Jancsi, Kate, and company shower good feelings on Uncle Moses and Aunt Sarah, the clever retailers who offer good advice in return. This ecumenical community takes in a citified girl, Lily, so that we can parallel the countrifying of Kate from The Good Master. They take in Russian prisoners of war and displaced German children. Before long the farm is like a miniature League of Nations, under the aegis of faraway Woodrow Wilson.

Seredy at times offers a keen look at wartime disillusion, and verges on representing anti-Semitism. If the novel dissolves into a glurgy progressive love-fest, it is at least a progressive love-fest. But The Singing Tree is pretty hard to take in retrospect, and must have become pretty hard to take not long after it was published in 1939.

Seredy, Kate. The Singing Tree. Illustrated by the author. 1939. New York: Puffin [Penguin], 1990. PZ 7 .S48Si